DUP warns that clock ticking to Stormont shutdown over NI Protocol
The DUP has hammered home the message that it is serious about forcing the EU and London government to act over the Northern Ireland Protocol, with First Minister Paul Givan yesterday insisting that the clock is ticking down to Stormont’s collapse.
Meanwhile TUV leader Jim Allister kept up the pressure on the DUP not to merely seek alterations to the protocol, but to seek its total abolition, saying the EU must “surrender its sovereignty” over the Province.
Last week, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson threatened to withdraw his ministers and bring down the powersharing institutions if his demands over the protocol were not met.
He stressed that the timeframe he had in mind was weeks, rather than months.
And yesterday at the first ministerial question time at Stormont following the summer break, Mr Givan was questioned by Sinn Fein about the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal.
This deal was struck in 2020 between Sinn Fein and the DUP, and was basically responsible for reviving Stormont.
Mr Givan said: “Within NDNA there is a commitment by the UK Government that when it comes to the internal market, Northern Ireland will be an integral part.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol, however, has caused damage economically, damage to our wider society.
“It has created political tension and therefore that has to be addressed.
“The Belfast Agreement is very clear on where the delicate balance was struck between unionists, nationalists and others and whenever one aspect of that is damaged it causes harm across all others.
“The east/west relationship has been harmed by the Northern Ireland Protocol and that has an impact when it comes to north/south.
“I want to see these issues resolved, I want to see these institutions working because I believe that we are best placed to represent the people who elect us in terms of how we run a country, that we can do that better than other jurisdictions.”
He added: “But we have to address the fundamental problems which have now occurred as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“And I hope that the UK Government and the European Union seize the window of opportunity that exists; but that window of opportunity is closing.” Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said that the DUP was “totally responsible” for the Northern Ireland Protocol, because the party backed Brexit.
Mr Givan responded: “When it comes to the issue of where did it all go wrong in respect of Brexit, it has been the outworking and implementation of that by the UK Government.
“We were very clear that Northern Ireland should be treated just as the rest of the United Kingdom.
“There was no approval of anybody in Northern Ireland for the changes which flowed from the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“It is vital when you are going to make these sorts of changes that it is done in a way which has consensus.
“The protocol doesn’t.”
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath echoed Mr Sheehan, telling the chamber that the threat to bring down Stormont was “reckless” in the middle of a pandemic.
Mr Givan said: “Our party is very clear. We want this Executive to continue work, we want this Assembly to continue to operate and to take the type of decisions that we are taking.”
However, he also went on to say that “the fundamentals on which the Executive is formed have to be right and that is why there is a window of opportunity for both the UK Government and the European Union to make sure that the changes which need to be made, are made”.
Jim Allister also rose to speak during the debate, telling fellow MLAs: “I want to make it abundantly clear in the House that tinkering with the Union-dismantling protocol, extending grace periods – doing all those cosmetic things – will not change the fundamental objection to that obnoxious protocol.
Whatever changes are made (I note that the vigorous implementers have toned down their foolhardy demands and are talking about tinkering etc) the fundamental test of all of that is whether Northern Ireland is still left in a foreign single market for goods subject to a foreign customs code and a foreign VAT regime, overseen by foreign laws and adjudicated on by a foreign court.
“If that is so, any such change is useless in removing the obscenity that is the protocol and does nothing to render it acceptable.
“What needs to be done is for the EU to surrender its sovereignty over Northern Ireland back to the United Kingdom.”
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