No immediate return to Stormont, says DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson despite guarded welcome for Protocol bill
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The DUP leader welcomed the publication of the legislation but said his party would watch the progress of the bill through Parliament before signing up to a new devolved government.
Sir Jeffrey said the government had been right to introduce major changes to the protocol as it did not command cross-community support.
“The bill doesn’t deliver anything in itself but it is nonetheless an important step and we recognise that. And what we want to see now is the bill progressing in Parliament and as the bill progresses of course we will consider what that means for devolution in Northern Ireland,” he said.
He continued: “We will want to examine the bill against our seven tests to determine that, if enacted, it will restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and remedy the democratic deficit of the protocol.
“The Belfast Agreement has been significantly damaged as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The political progress secured in Northern Ireland has been achieved on the principle of the support of both unionists and nationalists.
“It remains possible to restore the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, remove the democratic deficit at the heart of the protocol and eradicate the friction imposed on East/West trade whilst recognising the EU needs to protect their single market.”
He said those who claim the Protocol Bill endangers devolution are wrong: “The very opposite is the case. Northern Ireland does not currently have a functioning Assembly or Executive because of the flawed and imbalanced protocol that has eroded unionist support for the Belfast Agreement.
“With goodwill across the political spectrum, this legislation has the potential to secure a permanent pragmatic solution.
“The prize is great; a firm foundation for political stability in Northern Ireland and positive prosperity for all.”
Sir Jeffrey said the government has had little choice but to publish the bill without any moves to compromise on the protocol by the EU.
“In the absence of not having secured a resolution with the EU it is vital we see action to restore the constitutional balance and our position within the United Kingdom.
“The proposals advanced by Brussels would have led to more costly checks on passengers, pets and goods between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, not fewer.”
The DUP leader issued a warning to those Conservative MPs who might be tempted to use opposition to the bill as a means of further weakening the position of Boris Johnson.
“We will engage constructively in the legislative process and look forward to devolution being restored, but those intent on using this bill to undermine the prime minister should step back and recognise that Northern Ireland is too serious a matter to be the subject of more political games,” Sir Jeffrey said.
On the three parties that sent a joint letter to 10 Downing Street informing Boris Johnson that they represented a pro-protocol majority in Northern Ireland, Sir Jeffrey added: “I want to be clear that those parties do not represent unionism. They represent one side of this debate and this institution in the Assembly can only be restored on the basis of a cross-community consensus, majority rule will not cut it.”
TUV leader Jim Allister has said the general direction of travel of the legislation “marks progress” but along with further clarity its delivery was key.
Mr Allister also warned the DUP against considering an automatic return to the Stormont Executive simply on the basis of the bill’s publication.
He said: “The mere publication of this bill is no basis for unionists to surrender the leverage they have by re-engaging with the Stormont institutions.
“Now is a time for unionism to hold its nerve and not be bought off by the promise of some jam tomorrow.”
On the proposed green and red customs lanes Mr Allister said this confirms “the unacceptable existence of a partitioning border in the Irish Sea”.
He added: “It is not mere amelioration of the Irish Sea border that is required, but its removal.”