Jim Allister says even a deal on "customs processes" won't be possible under the Protocol
With the EU and UK ruling out fundamental change to the Windsor Framework, speculation has increased that any deal secured by the DUP will focus on checks and processes at the border – rather than its removal.
However, the TUV leader says that unless there is fundamental change to the protocol, no changes to border processes can happen without the UK being in breach of the deal it signed with Brussels.
In Westminster on Wednesday, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson asked the NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris for movement on ‘unnecessary’ EU customs processes on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
Mr Allister has told the News Letter that an understanding of the “scale and content” of Article 5 of the protocol is essential – as that’s what places Northern Ireland under EU rules.
He said that if the UK unilaterally removed the processes around goods entering NI, it would place itself in breach of the Windsor Framework’s requirements to protect the EU single market and customs union.
“It seems to me, given the legal straitjacket of Article 5 of the protocol, that only its removal could remove the processes and indeed the sea border. Thus, any deal that does not remove Article 5 (which would require EU consent unless UK boldly asserts its sovereign power in parliament), will not remove even the ‘sense’ of an Irish Sea border,” he said.
The DUP has reiterated its commitment to the seven tests it set out for any deal. The party said: “We don’t provide a running commentary on our negotiations. Our position remains unchanged. We need to secure an outcome that restores our place in the Union and protects our right to trade with the rest of the UK and the internal market. We will assess any such outcome against our seven tests.”
The EU has repeatedly made clear the Windsor Framework is not up for negotiation.
The News Letter asked the EU if any unilateral changes were to be made by the UK government to remove any customs processes would that breach the Windsor Framework. We also asked if there is any scope under the current arrangements to remove any customs processes or physical checks. The EU did not respond.
The News Letter asked the UK government if it rules out unilaterally removing any EU customs processes. A spokesperson issued a stock response, saying: “We will not give a running commentary on our political meetings. The secretary of state is doing everything he can to facilitate the restoration of the executive as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, a report on the wider trade deal between the UK and EU has been overwhelmingly endorsed in the European Parliament.
Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly welcomed the “the resounding support” for his report on the wider trading relationship between the UK and European Union.
He said: “This report is the first step in not only assessing the operation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement but also outlining practical measures to enhance our relationship with the UK while upholding our commitments.”
The report looked at the Windsor Framework, which he described as “a new chapter in the EU-UK relationship”.
Mr Kelly called for the return of the political institutions in Northern Ireland. “Stormont has been without a functioning executive since February 2022. It's now time to move past the political stalemate in Northern Ireland and get the assembly back up and running,” he said.
Political representatives from across the British Isles will meet at the British-Irish Council in Dublin on Friday, but no Stormont ministers will be there because of the political impasse. Michael Gove is expected to represent the UK government.
Next week, the UK and Irish governments will meet at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, also in Dublin.
The Republic’s deputy prime minister Micheál Martin and Mr Heaton-Harris will attend the meeting on Tuesday.
The body deals with issues of interest to both countries such as security co-operation, cyber-threats and legacy issues relating to the Troubles.
It is expected the absence of a power-sharing executive at Stormont will be high on the agenda, with a ‘joint communiqué’ issued at the end of the meeting.