Northern Ireland's DUP hardens position against new Brexit deal

DUP leader Donaldson speaks after a meeting with British PM Sunak in Belfast
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson speaks to the media at the Culloden Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland, February 17, 2023. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan/File Photo

BELFAST, March 14 (Reuters) - The head of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party on Tuesday voiced his strongest concerns to date over a UK-EU deal to simplify post-Brexit trade rules, saying his party was seeking changes from the British government.

A key test of the deal reached by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Brussels last month is its ability to convince the DUP to end a year-long boycott of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government over the original post-Brexit trade rules.

As well as leaving Northern Ireland without a functioning executive, failure to win over the DUP could trigger a rebellion within Sunak's Conservative Party and dash his hopes of presenting the deal as a major diplomatic success.

Sunak has gambled that he can solve one of Brexit's thorniest legacies ahead of the 25th anniversary of a peace deal largely that ended decades of sectarian violence in the province. U.S. President Joe Biden has accepted an invitation to visit Northern Ireland to mark the anniversary in April.

The DUP last week announced a group to conduct a month-long consultation on the deal and on Tuesday said it was talking with the British government about how its concerns might be addressed in legislation.

A statement published by DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson on his party's website showed a hardening of his position on whether the deal was acceptable in its current form:

"It is my current assessment that there remains key areas of concern which require further clarification, re-working and change as well as seeing further legal text."

Previous DUP statements had said the party was ready to engage on changes and clarifications as required. The consultative group is due to report back by the end of March.


The deal seeks to resolve the tensions caused by the Northern Ireland protocol, a complex agreement which set the trading rules for the British-ruled region that London agreed before it left the EU but now says are unworkable.

Sunak's spokesman said the government was engaging with the DUP and was open to further discussions and questions.

In a separate interview with the BBC in Washington, Donaldson said: "We've been clear to the government as the framework sits at the moment, it is insufficient to fully address the concerns that we have."

"What we are doing on an ongoing basis is identifying what those concerns are and what the remedy is in law, particularly legislation," he said.

Donaldson listed five areas of concern, including the harm done to Northern Ireland's union with the rest of the United Kingdom, its place in the UK's internal market, the role of EU law, the workings of a "green lane" for imports from Britain and the "democratic deficit" around the imposition of EU laws.

"We need to see in legislation, in UK law, clear remedial action to repair the harm done to the Act of Union," Donaldson told the BBC.

Clear protection "in UK law" was also needed to protect Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom's internal market, he said.

Sunak's government has not set out in detail how it intends to implement the deal, known as the Windsor Framework, in law.

Reporting by Amanda Ferguson, Sachin Ravikumar and Conor Humphries; Editing by William James and Alison Williams

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