The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Tory backbenchers have warned Rishi Sunak against “giving in” to the EU during negotiations over Northern Ireland Protocol.
Lord Dodds of the DUP, House of Lords leader, said to The Sunday Telegraph that he was afraid that the Prime Minister was “softening up people up” in exchange for concessions that would preserve the Protocol.
The UK and EU celebrated a breakthrough last week by reaching a mini-deal that would allow the EU access to UK databases regarding trade flows of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Tuesday’s meeting will see James Cleverly (Foreign Secretary) and Chris Heaton Harris (Northern Ireland Secretary), meet Maros Sfcovic (EU chief negotiator). They will discuss the Protocol which established border checks on British goods in order to avoid a hard Irish border following Brexit.
The DUP, however, claims that the parties are not yet close to a deal that would allow them to restore power-sharing. This has been suspended since February 2022 when the party withdrew its support from the Northern Ireland Executive over the Protocol’s terms.
“Softening people up to a cave-in”
Lord Dodds stated that a deal could only be reached if the UK Government gives in to the EU’s negotiating mandate. All of the EU talks are focusing on implementation and not renegotiation.
“If this is being discussed, it cannot be because our Government is preparing the ground, softening people up to cave in.”
He claimed that the Government had further undermined trust in the Unionist community, by recently introducing legislation that would allow it to build border control posts at Northern Ireland ports. Ministers agree that this is necessary regardless of whether or not a deal with the EU is reached.
Lord Dodds stated that “it’s a scandalous effort to actually implement this Protocol.” It has caused a lot of damage between Unionists, and the Government.
“Constitutionally, it’s an abhorrence”
He also criticized Sir Keir’s Friday speech in which the Labour leader claimed it was possible to “remove the majority of checks” on goods entering Northern Ireland.
Lord Dodds stated that this would not resolve the fundamental problem of Northern Ireland being subjected to the rules and regulations of the EU’s Single Market.
He stated that “the mere reduction of the number of controls doesn’t solve this problem.” “The problem we have in Northern Ireland lies in the fact that we are subject to vast swathes of our economy to Brussels laws… it’s an abhorrence constitutionally.”
Sir Keir stated in his speech that he would give Mr Sunak Labour votes to push through a deal in Parliament, regardless of opposition from the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers.
Lord Dodds stated that Sir Keir’s “positioning” was something the Prime Minister must be careful about.
Lord Dodds, despite Labour’s refusal to join the Single Market, said that the Tories must resolve the impasse. This would allow an incoming Labour government to declare “well, the only way we can solve this problem is to align the whole UK closer to the EU.”
Labour’s ‘Trojan horse.
David Jones, deputy chair of ERG, also turned down Sir Keir’s offer.
According to him, The Telegraph reported that he was confident that the Prime Minister can see a Trojan horse when it appears. He is unlikely to want to depend on Labour votes to pass legislation.
Jones stated that the Protocol changes being “promised around” weren’t enough for his group. He stated that the ERG would want to see the UK’s constitutional integrity restored. However, this is not the case right now. He said that it would be “futile” to strike a deal which fails to restore Northern Ireland’s institutions, as it lacks Unionist buy-in.
Lord Dodds stated that Mr Sunak and European leaders must decide whether they want the political process to take place in Northern Ireland, or the Protocol. This is as the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
He said, “If they adhere to the Protocol well there isn’t going to be the restoration institution and Rishi Sunak will therefore have to deal with that fallout.”
“Surely, after 25 years, the prime minister doesn’t want the job of the one who destroyed Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement] and Northern Ireland institutions?”
A spokesperson for the Government stated that the priority of the UK is to protect the Belfast Agreement, preserve political stability in Northern Ireland, and maintain the UK’s internal market.
“We want these issues to be resolved as quickly as possible, but there are still gaps in our position that require resolution, so the UK technical teams and EU technical team continue to work urgently on potential solutions.
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