Judging by the early statements from the more outspoken members of the Democratic Unionist Party in response to the Windsor Framework, the party never looked likely to accept the new deal.
Even with the winnowing of the piles of customs paperwork and regulatory red tape on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain in so-called green lanes, the DUP would not stand for even a modicum of EU law applying that would prove necessary to allow the North to benefit from access to both the EU and UK markets. In the uncompromising political arena in which the DUP exists, any rule applying to the North and not to the rest of the UK is unacceptable.
The DUP has, for now, chosen not to throw out the entire Windsor Framework saying that it requires “further clarification, re-working and change,” but it has voted against the first part of the agreement to come to the UK parliament.
The “Stormont brake” is the centrepiece of the deal designed by the UK government, which it had hoped would bring the party on board. UK prime minister Rishi Sunak had the numbers to vote it through at Westminster yesterday with the support of the Labour Party, but DUP opposition creates problems.
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The emergency brake was designed to give unionists a means to stop the automatic adoption of EU rules in Northern Ireland. However, the legislation implementing the brake also creates a way for the UK government to dispense with unionist concerns if necessary. The pulling of the brake by 30 MLAs from two or more parties will automatically suspend the adoption of the EU law, but a UK government minister can later ignore this vote if there are “exceptional circumstances.”
One circumstance – the absence of an Assembly – is spelt out in the legislation but others are not, so there will be much discretion resting with the UK government. And so the DUP finds another reason to object. The UK government’s over-selling of the brake to unionists, before it published the fine print,will not help Sunak winning them around to the rest of the framework.