Donaldson seeks ‘imminent progress’ on protocol – or unilateral action

Mary Lou McDonald says ‘stability’ should be focus rather than DUP ‘electoral positioning’

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, right, and Nigel Dodds arrive at the British Foreign Office for a meeting with foreign secretary Liz Truss. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, right, and Nigel Dodds arrive at the British Foreign Office for a meeting with foreign secretary Liz Truss. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

 

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson has called on the UK government to show how it can make “imminent progress” on the Northern Ireland protocol or take unilateral action to impose its own solution.

But Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said “constructive, good-faith work” was required to resolve differences between Britain and the European Union, adding that the protocol was here to stay.

Speaking in London after a meeting with foreign secretary Liz Truss, Mr Donaldson said he had shown patience as talks between Britain and the European Union dragged on over months.

“I’ve been reasonable. I’ve given time for these negotiations to make progress, but we need to see that happen. And the sooner that happens, the better for all of us, for everyone in Northern Ireland. This uncertainty is not good for Northern Ireland. We need certainty. We need the government to act. And if the EU are not prepared to agree on what is required, then the government must take that unilateral action,” he said.

Ms McDonald said after an online meeting with Ms Truss that “stability, peace, jobs and prosperity must come first” in dealing with the protocol. And she said that “political posturing and narrow electoral positioning” by the DUP “can’t hold progress back”.

Earlier, Mr Donaldson “paused” his threat to withdraw DUP Ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive to allow Ms Truss, who took over responsibility for Brexit negotiations last month, to start a fresh round of talks with the EU. Ms Truss will hold her first face-to-face talks with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday at her grace and favour residence Chevening House.

She has promised to put forward “constructive proposals” to break the deadlock over the protocol, focusing on practical issues such as customs checks and procedures. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Truss said goods from Britain should not be subject to checks if they were going to remain in Northern Ireland but that Britain agreed that goods destined to move across the Border into the EU single market should be checked.

‘End to checks’

Mr Donaldson said his focus was also on ending checks on goods that would remain in Northern Ireland and he agreed that issues around the governance of the protocol and the role of the European Court of Justice could be resolved in a separate negotiation.

“In the end, what we want is Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market restored. We want to see an end to checks on the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“It is wrong that companies and consumers in Northern Ireland have to complete customs paperwork on the movement of goods within their own country. Those are the kind of issues that are a priority for us, notwithstanding the need to reach agreement on the wider issues such as governance,” he said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said any triggering of article 16 suspending the Northern Ireland protocol would lead to “further tension and an undermining of trust.“

Mr Coveney said that having met Ms Truss for four hours last Thursday, he “wasn’t surprised” by anything in her article in the Sunday Telegraph.

“Clearly, there is a lot of work to do before we could find a landing zone that the EU could agree with and the British government could support,” Mr Coveney said.

Ms Truss was “outlining her position” and ”reinforcing the message that had come from the UK government for the past number of months in order to drive a hard bargain,” he said.

Election context

He said that it would have been “naive” to expect the UK’s new Brexit negotiator to have a different position on the protocol to that of her predecessor, David Frost.

“Let the negotiating teams get to work, and hopefully we can start the new year as we mean to continue, which is both sides listening to each other and trying to find accommodation rather than creating stand-offs and using threatening language. I think that is not helpful,” he said.

The DUP’s comments on the protocol yesterday needed to be seen in the context of Northern Ireland’s election in May and how the protocol was “a big part of that election”, said Mr Coveney.

He hoped issues could be settled in advance of that election.

Mr Coveney said he would speak with Mr Sefcovic on Tuesday ahead of the EU negotiator’s talks with Ms Truss on Thursday and Friday.

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said the Government was hoping for a successful conclusion of the talks.

“Everybody has to be on the solutions page, and I would very hopeful that the British government will be because it is certainly in the best interests of Northern Ireland,” he said.