DUP deal to provide ‘real change’ for North, says Donaldson, as restoration of powersharing looms

EU to ‘analyse carefully’ agreement that pledges ‘unfettered access’ to Britain while removing most post-Brexit checks on goods

Legislation by the UK government to break the impasse at Stormont will see the removal of almost all checks on goods between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The UK government’s 88-page command paper, titled Safeguarding the Union, published on Wednesday envisaged “unfettered access” between Northern Ireland and the UK.

The UK government intends to amend the UK’s Internal Market Act to prohibit exit checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Britain.

This will replace the green and red lanes from the Northern Ireland protocol which unionists believed separated them from the rest of the United Kingdom. The publication of the proposed legislation by the British government has been widely welcomed in the UK, Ireland and the United States.


The paper is likely to pave the way for the restoration of Stormont for the first time in two years as early as Saturday.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffery Donaldson said he was proud that his party had secured changes which he believed met its seven tests for a return to Stormont.

He added: “This is our achievement, after two years of hard work and negotiation.”

He said it would provide “real change delivering progress for everyone in Northern Ireland” amid “long and protracted negotiations”.

He spoke of a “a confident unionism, a forward-looking unionism ... that wants to make progress for everyone in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Donaldson said he has not seen the figures, but he was sure the overwhelming majority of party delegates voted in favour of the deal on Monday night.

However, Sammy Wilson, one of the DUP’s most senior MPs, criticised the British government as “spineless and Brexit-betraying” in “refusing to take on the EU and its interference in Northern Ireland”.

The Northern Ireland Assembly’s role in having an “emergency brake” on any EU legislation has been expanded. EU law will no longer automatically apply in Northern Ireland. Before the deal, it would have taken at least half of the Assembly members to object before EU law could be scrutinised.

The DUP and British government say the legislation will underpin Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris said the deal “taken as a whole, is the right one for Northern Ireland and for the union”.

“With this package it is now time for elected representatives in Northern Ireland to come together, to end the two years of impasse and start work again in the interests of the people that elected them.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there would be “questions” about the deal and its effect on trading arrangements but that as things stood there were no major “red flags”.

“We’ve only really seen the detail today, we’re going to have to study it. I think there are certainly going to be some questions we will want to ask, more particularly the European Commission will want to ask some questions about the trading arrangements,” Mr Varadkar told reporters.

The deal would need to be faithful both to the Good Friday Agreement in ensuring no hard border between North and South, and also respect the Windsor Framework that was agreed between the EU and UK government, he said.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said advocacy from unionism has “paid dividends” in changing post-Brexit trade arrangements for the North.

It is now a moment “we need to grasp” for the benefit of people in the region and across the entire island, he added.

He said: “In many ways, the Windsor Framework was a significant advance on the protocol and what had been there from a unionist perspective, and I would say that advocacy from unionism paid dividends in respect of the Windsor Framework, and indeed, on other issues as well in respect of the trading arrangements.”

Stormont will return: Analysis from Belfast, London and Dublin

Listen | 46:49
Pat Leahy, Freya McClements and Mark Paul join Hugh to discuss the DUP's acceptance of a historic deal that allows powersharing in Northern Ireland to resume.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it will “analyse carefully” the agreement to tweak Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements.

The Commission’s vice-president, and lead man on deal making with Britain, Maroš Šefčovič held a phone call with foreign secretary David Cameron and Mr Heaton-Harris.

In a joint statement after the call, they said both sides agreed “on the high importance of seeing the Northern Ireland Executive restored and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland”.

Both sides have a “shared commitment to the full implementation of the Windsor Framework”, it said, and would continue talks together through the channels that the agreement set up. The two sides proposed a solution on tariff rate quotas earlier this week. The EU has previously said that Britain is free to tweak how it implements the Windsor Framework internally.

In London, the deal was broadly welcomed across the political divide with no sign of any major opposition emerging to it. Labour confirmed in the House of Commons that it would vote for those elements of the plan that are due up for parliamentary approval on Thursday.

Soon after the details began to emerge early in the afternoon on Wednesday, former prime minister Boris Johnson said that the agreement must not prevent Britain from having the ability to diverge from EU standards.

He said Britain must “at all costs avoid a return to the disastrous Chequers model” of alignment on standards that his predecessor, Theresa May, tried and failed to implement.

The European Research Group of Brexit hardliners held a low-key meeting in Westminster on Wednesday night.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a one-time Brexit “ultra”, told reporters outside the meeting that he believed the UK government had “done well” with the deal. The Scottish National Party welcomed the deal, as did Labour’s leader Keir Starmer.

Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesman for prime minister Rishi Sunak said the deal made “changes to the operation of the Windsor Framework but not to its fundamentals”.

The outgoing Stormont speaker Alex Maskey has contacted all Stormont MLAs telling them that they need to be ready to elect his successor and appoint ministers in the days ahead.

In his letter to them, he stated that the last time the Assembly was convened in January 2020, it was convened with just 24 hours notice. “A similar time frame may be necessary on this occasion,” he said.

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times