London protocol move a ‘significant step in right direction’ – Jeffrey Donaldson

British must not be allowed to renege on international law, insists Sinn Féin

The British government's demands for a new deal on the Northern Ireland protocol prompted different political responses in the North. The DUP described it as a "significant first step", while Sinn Féin insisted the protocol must not be "hollowed out" by London.

In seeking a "standstill period" and "significant changes" to the protocol the DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the British government was illustrating that the "protocol is not working".

“This is a significant step in the right direction by the government and an acceptance that the protocol is not sustainable,” said Mr Donaldson.

“We warned about the flaws of the protocol and since its imposition upon Northern Ireland we have been highlighting how the Irish Sea Border has been injurious to almost every area of life for people living in Northern Ireland,” he added.

“Sticking plasters and short-term fixes were never going to work. We need a proper renegotiation.”

Mr Donaldson said the British prime minister Boris Johnson "must continue at pace to remove the Irish Sea Border which is fracturing the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom".

He added, "The rigid refusal by Brussels to even consider renegotiation of the protocol is symptomatic of how we reached this point. The EU has failed to recognise the concerns of unionists and has shown zero respect for the consensus approach which has helped secure peace and stability in Northern Ireland."

Sinn Féin position

The Sinn Féin junior Minister and Brexit spokesman Declan Kearney, however, said the British government must not be allowed to "renege on international law" and must implement the protocol.

“It is not acceptable for the Tories to adopt an a la carte approach towards the protocol, to rewrite history, and now attempt a renegotiation,” he said.

“If the protocol is to achieve its goals, then it needs to be implemented fully, not hollowed out by the British government,” added Mr Kearney.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the new British position on the protocol was the "latest in a car-crash attempt by the British government to distance themselves from an agreement they negotiated, campaigned for and signed up to".

“It is a shameless position based on political expedience rather than providing the stability that people, businesses and communities in Northern Ireland need,” he said.

Mr Eastwood added that the British government should take up the proposal for a Swiss-style veterinary agreement that, it is estimated, would do away with 80 per cent of the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland.

He said, “I believe that a resolution remains possible that would reduce required checks to a minimal level if the British government steps back from its bad-faith interventions and works with all of those around the table to seek an agreement on the basis of SPS alignment.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie welcomed "movement in the direction of finding pragmatic, workable solutions".

Mr Beattie said he would make clear to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a meeting in Dublin on Thursday "that if the Irish Government stand by the status quo then they will be causing further damage".

“Solutions need to be found and intransigence will only serve to harm Northern Ireland,” he said.

‘Wishful thinking’

Alliance North Down MP Stephen Farry said the British government statement and command paper on the protocol was "full of bluster and a rewriting of history".

“They will bring even more uncertainty and instability for businesses and the wider community,” he added.

“The government is choosing more wishful thinking and confrontation with the EU rather than taking the most obvious solution available, which is a comprehensive veterinary agreement with the EU.”

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said what the British government had delivered was "mere words" but "no action".

His message to the British government was: "While you vacillate and procrastinate the union weakens and the prime minister fails in his pledge to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom.

“And, my message to the unionist people is that we must continue relentless in opposition to the iniquitous protocol, clear in the knowledge that if we don’t kill the protocol, it will kill the union.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times