DUP efforts to secure Government legal assurances reaching ‘important stage’

Jeffrey Donaldson has said DUP will not return to powersharing until UK government legislates to address concerns around sovereignty and trade

DUP efforts to secure legal assurances on post-Brexit trade will reach an important stage in the coming weeks, the party leader has said.

Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted the DUP will not return to powersharing at Stormont until the UK government legislates to address its concerns around sovereignty and trade.

The DUP has been blocking devolution for over a year in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol – a set of trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

The recent UK/EU deal to cut some of the red tape on Irish Sea trade – the Windsor Framework – does not go far enough, according to the DUP.


Mr Donaldson met with other party leaders at Stormont Castle on Thursday to discuss the region’s under-pressure public finances and plans for a potential return of powersharing.

Afterwards, he made clear that his party still needed to see delivery from the Government if it was to countenance a return to devolution.

He urged ministers in London to act sooner rather than later to provide the legislative assurances the DUP was seeking.

“I am hopeful that we will see further progress made in the next few weeks in terms of our discussions with the Government and what needs to be done,” he said.

“I think we are reaching an important stage in that process over the next few weeks and it will determine whether the Government is able to deliver what is required that will facilitate the restoration of our political institutions.

“But we are clear that has to be on a stable and sustainable basis.”

Mr Donaldson added: “We want to get this done and to have the solutions in place as quickly as possible.”

Senior civil servants are currently running public services in Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.

They have estimated that Stormont departments need hundreds of millions of pounds in extra funding to maintain public services at their current level this year.

Hundreds of millions more would be needed to settle a series of public sector pay disputes in the region.

Parties are set to ask the Treasury for a £1 billion-plus package in financial support to accompany any return to powersharing.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, who also attended Thursday’s meeting chaired by the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Dr Jayne Brady, said the financial picture was getting worse.

“We’re doing preparation work for a negotiation [with Treasury] that might not happen,” he said.

“Because if the DUP aren’t signalling that they are going back into an executive, there’s no discussion to be had with the British Government.

“And we would feel the full brunt of Tory policies and a very, very bad and punishing Tory budget.”

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said the parties needed to make a “collective ask” of Treasury.

“The fact that we’ve had in effect two-and-a-half hours of a meeting, I think is a very positive sign, which does indicate that there is serious work being done in terms of trying to put together a coherent plan that will come from the executive parties to the UK Government,” he said.

Mr Farry added: “There is some degree of momentum building in this process.

“It is still early days and we’re very keen to see the momentum build over the coming days and weeks. So we’re definitely committed to this process and we want to see it intensify.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie also said talks between the parties on preparing for a return to Stormont appeared to be gaining momentum.

“The most important thing for me, I think, was all of the input from all of the political parties that were in there was very positive,” he said after the meeting at Stormont Castle.

“And they all talked about when the executive gets up and running again, and what we can do about a programme for government and what will our priorities be and outlined when our next meeting will be.

“So, I think it was very positive in many ways. And you can see that there’s a pace ramping up, where people are starting to look at where we can get more money in, where we can ask for more investment, where we can reach out to the Treasury to see what they can provide for us and what our priorities will be in the likes of infrastructure and within a programme for government.

“So, you can see that it seems to be moving forward.” – PA