Jeffrey Donaldson says London is focused on protocol solutions that keep Northern Ireland in UK internal market, and seem ready to act if EU does not budge
The DUP leader had what he described as “two important meetings” over the Northern Ireland Protocol at the Tory conference yesterday.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson met with Lord Frost, the government Brexit minister, alongside Brandon Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and he also met the EU ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida.
Sir Jeffrey told the News Letter that he believed that London was “focused” on a solution “that respects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market”.
He said he believes that “in the absence of the EU coming forward with proposals” or such a solution then the UK is “prepared to take the necessary action to achieve that”.
Sir Jeffrey said of his talks with Mr de Almeida: “We took the impression to impress upon him the importance for unionists of addressing the problems created by the protocol and not least the harm that it is doing to our position within the UK internal market, and that for us is the priority at the end of the day.
“It is restoring Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and we need the EU to understand that – that this is not about tinkering around the edges, it is not about making the protocol a little softer in its implementation, it is fundamentally about removing barriers to trade within the United Kingdom.”
Asked how the ambassador responded, the MP for Lagan Valley said: “I think the EU are beginning to more fully understand and appreciate the unionist position and we welcome that, both in terms of the engagement I have had with Maroš Šefčovič and with the EU ambassador.
“We have been at pains to make the substance and the core of our opposition to the protocol and what it does in terms of harming Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom – that it is not just for us having privileged access to the EU single market.
“In the end if the EU present a barrier to trade with our biggest market, which is Great Britain, then it is harmful to Northern Ireland and everyone who lives in Northern Ireland.”
Asked further if the ambassador answered in specifics, Sir Jeffrey said: “The ambassador explained the position of the EU in terms of issues like medicines and customs and SPS checks and of course the role of the European Court of Justice and we made clear to the ambassador that at its heart the protocol has created an unnecessary and unacceptable barrier to trade within the United Kingdom and that runs contrary to the principle of consent, it runs contrary to the principles of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and therefore if the protocol was ever designed to protect political stability in Northern Ireland it is actually having the opposite effect.”
Sir Jeffrey said that his other meeting yesterday, with Lord Frost and the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, was “very important”.
“We welcome what Lord Frost had to say about the indicative timetable that the UK government are now working to and I think that is very helpful because there is no doubt that minds are now focused on trying to find a solution, a solution that works for Northern Ireland that respects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.
“And Lord Frost I think is very clear that the protocol is simply not sustainable and we need to get to that solution and in the absence of the EU coming forward with proposals that respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK then the government is prepared to take the necessary action to achieve that.”
Sir Jeffrey said that the DUP “will continue to engage with both our own government and the EU to ensure that they are fully aware of unionist concerns and the strength of unionist opposition to this Irish Sea border – that is absolutely crucial”.
He added: “The last two days we have spent here at the Conservative Party conference has been time well spent in hammering home that very clear message.”
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