DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted that “more is needed” in relation to post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland in order for his party to return to Stormont.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday in advance of a vote on the so-called Stormont brake, which is one element of the Windsor Framework deal but viewed as an approval for the whole plan, Mr Donaldson said they would be voting against it.
Despite concerns about a Tory rebellion, MPs voted to overwhelmingly back the “brake”, which allows a minority of the North’s MLAs to flag concerns about new European Union laws applying in the North.
While accepting that “progress” has been made as a result of the UK and European Union framework agreement – designed to reduce checks on goods moving from Britain into Northern Ireland – Mr Donaldson defended his position in blocking the restoration of the power-sharing Executive.
The North has been without a functioning government for more than a year now after the DUP collapsed the institutions in its ongoing protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol, the original post-Brexit deal that avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland.
[ ‘Stormont brake’ plan passes in House of Commons vote despite Conservative revolt ]
“That was our action that brought the EU back to the table,” Mr Donaldson said.
“And yes, we have made progress as a result of that. But more is needed. What is the more that is needed? It is to deliver the pledge given by the government in the New Decade New Approach agreement to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the internal market of the United Kingdom.”
SDLP leader Colm Eastwood warned that the DUP’s stance will only strengthen calls for a referendum on a united Ireland.
“If the DUP still refuse to go into government after all of this, more and more people – I can guarantee you – will figure out that the best way to make the north of Ireland work is within a new Ireland. That is where this is going and people should be very aware of that,” Mr Eastwood told the Commons.
Mr Eastwood said that while his party had concerns about the Stormont brake mechanism, they support the deal overall.
“In every single negotiation, in every single agreement there has been, there have been parts of those agreements that we haven’t liked but we have had to stomach it for the greater good of the people of Northern Ireland,” he added.
[ Windsor deal moves ahead in London and Brussels despite DUP opposition ]
Both the SDLP and Alliance Party voted in favour of the deal. It was passed by 515 to 29 overall, with the backing of other Tories, Labour and the SNP.
Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill called for the DUP to return to Stormont, saying: “The public have been punished for long enough by this futile and shameful DUP blockade.”
“The onus is on the British and Irish governments and all parties – not least the DUP – to now get Stormont moving,” she added.
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry also expressed reservations about the brake but said the party has given the Windsor Framework a “broad welcome”.
“While it isn’t perfect, we recognise it is a significant upgrade from the original protocol.
“Alliance didn’t support Brexit but, thanks to the hard Brexit pursued by the UK government and DUP, we need to address the particular challenges posed to our region. The Windsor Framework offers us an even softer landing than before and provides practical answers to a range of problems highlighted over the past few years.”
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie said the backing of the deal showed that the UK government is “moving on and that the DUP boycott has failed”.
[ A route exists for DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson to go back into the NI Assembly ]
“Unionism has a decision to make,” he said.
“Do we want to have influence via the Assembly and Executive or do we want to be nothing more than passengers with no say over the direction we are headed?
“The Windsor Framework has genuine opportunities and it has serious challenges. The Ulster Unionist Party believes that in order to realise the opportunities and challenge the multiple issues then we need a functioning devolved Government.”
Following the vote, Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris welcomed the result, describing the brake as a measure which “lies at the very heart” of the framework deal.
“By voting in favour of the Stormont brake, we have voted to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland, through a restored Executive, will have full democratic input to the laws that apply to them,” he said.