The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader has again said that the Northern Ireland political institutions could be collapsed over a lack of progress in removing what he called the "Irish Sea border".
Jeffrey Donaldson criticised British prime minister Boris Johnson for his lack of action on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which he said was "not sustainable".
The significance of the letter was played down in Dublin, where there was a view in Government circles that Mr Donaldson was talking to his members in a “measured” tone and that it “leaves wriggle room for whatever develops”.
In the letter, seen by the Press Association news agency, Mr Donaldson said he had challenged Mr Johnson in the House of Commons about “the lack of movement on the Irish Sea border being removed”.
“His answer was a standard reply with little sign of movement. That is not sustainable,” he wrote.
“I have given space for talks. I have been reasonable, but Brussels is being unreasonable. These talks cannot go on for years.
“The prime minister must realise that if there is no progress then, as I said, on September 9th, our continued participation in political institutions that are being used to impose the protocol is not sustainable.”
Mr Johnson told Mr Donaldson on Wednesday that he believed the Northern Ireland Protocol could be worked “differently”, but that the EU had to be convinced of this. He did not rule out the use of Article 16 – which would suspend elements of the protocol – if talks with the EU do not progress.
Other Northern Irish parties took a dim view of Mr Donaldson’s letter, with Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill accusing the DUP of “recklessness” in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said collapsing the institutions “would disrupt critical budget allocations needed to bolster our health service”.
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Doug Beattie said: “I have to reiterate my belief this [collapsing Stormont] would be bad for the people of Northern Ireland and for unionism. It will do nothing to address the protocol.”
Alliance MP Stephen Farry said: “This is tedious and repetitive. It would be a massive own goal for DUP, and destructive for [Northern Ireland]”.
A Government source said Dublin was focused on how the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom were progressing and noted there had been some limited progress.
The Irish Times reported on Friday that Britain had dropped its demand that the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must be removed from the protocol. A senior British government official said London still believed the protocol’s governance arrangements were unsustainable in the long term, but acknowledged that the commission had no mandate to renegotiate the protocol.
Britain has now agreed to limit the negotiations to the issues both sides agree are creating difficulties, such as access to medicines and the burden of customs and regulatory checks on goods.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was said to be unavailable for interview on the matter on Sunday. A spokeswoman for his department said: “We welcome the fact that the EU-UK talks on the implementation of the protocol are continuing.
“A positive outcome remains our objective and we wish to see substantive progress and joint tangible solutions.”
The EU’s negotiator Maros Sefcovic is to meeting his British counterpart David Frost twice in the coming week to resume talks. – Additional reporting PA