Priti Patel comments are evidence that a Stormont return 'makes no sense' for unionists - TUV

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel has urged the government to re-open the Windsor FrameworkFormer Home Secretary Priti Patel has urged the government to re-open the Windsor Framework
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel has urged the government to re-open the Windsor Framework
The TUV say the intervention of Dame Priti Patel over the Windsor Framework has highlighted the fact that the Stormont boycott is the only leverage unionists have over the Irish Sea border.

The party was responding to an extraordinary intervention by the former Tory cabinet minister on an anti-protocol website. Ms Patel said the Windsor deal threatened the Union and that Rishi Sunak’s government should re-open negotiations on it.

She also pointed to an unfulfilled Conservative Party pledge to ensure unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

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TUV deputy leader Ron McDowell said that Ms Patel’s observation that both the UK Government and the EU have so far shown little interest in reopening the Windsor Framework – and the unfulfilled Tory commitment to restore Northern Ireland’s place inside the UK internal market – is “yet more evidence that talk of an imminent deal on Stormont’s return makes no sense from a Unionist perspective”.

Mr McDowell said “she reminds us that the absence of Stormont means that there remains political pressure to resolve these issues.

“Why, therefore, would Unionism surrender its only card? Suggestions from Peter Robinson and others that the Assembly offers chances to achieve change on the Protocol is nonsense. This intervention coming after Suella Braverman’s letter which highlighted the Prime Minister’s failure to deliver the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as a major shortcoming of his government is another reminder that Unionism shouldn’t even be contemplating returning to a Sinn Fein dominated Stormont.”

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said that the party noted Priti Patel’s “recent” consistency on the Irish Sea border issue. The former home secretary supported the original Brexit arrangements which introduced the NI Protocol, but argued this week that the protocol was only ever intended to be a temporary measure. Mr Lyons said: “Priti Patel has in recent times been consistent in her analysis of the problems of the Northern Ireland Protocol and its flaws. We are working to address and resolve those problems”.

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There has been mounting speculation that a deal between the DUP and the government on the Irish Sea border is close. However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said that the party isn’t focused on timelines, but on getting a deal that meets the party’s seven tests.

On Tuesday, speaking at the British Irish Governmental Conference, the Secretary of State also refused to put a timeline on the deal. But he suggested a resolution was inching closer – saying the negotiations were in their “final, final stages”.

Ms Patel had also called on the Tory government to honour its manifesto pledge that Northern Ireland businesses would have ‘unfettered access’ to the UK market – and said she wants Rishi Sunak’s administration to “put an end to the tentacles of EU control over Northern Ireland”.

Dame Patel urged the UK and EU to prioritise “re-opening” the Windsor Framework in her article for the Unionist Voice website, run by the loyalist Jamie Bryson. The former home secretary under Boris Johnson also said she believes that the integrity of the UK’s market should have been a red line in the Brexit deal her government signed and that the Windsor Framework and said it “posed a risk to the integrity of our United Kingdom”.

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However, the Alliance Party’s Sorcha Eastwood defended the Windsor deal saying it allowed access to both markets – and accused the former home secretary of trying to further her own political ends. The Lagan Valley MLA said: "The Windsor Framework provides Northern Ireland with a unique position with access to both markets- Northern Ireland has the potential to leverage that and maximise the economic benefits for people here.

“It is clear the UK government and EU concluded discussions on this earlier in the year. Since then, the UK government have sought largely to move forward and stabilise and prioritise relations with the EU and that has been borne out in the participation of the UK in the Horizon programme again.

“Backbench voices and spurned former Cabinet Ministers now appearing to take an interest in Northern Ireland to serve no other purpose than their own political ends is something that is best ignored.

“Northern Ireland needs to move forward, the DUP need to end their boycott and I would urge detractors to listen to the UKG who have repeatedly stated the benefits of access to both markets"