Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-UK party has agreed a deal that it says will scrap some controversial post-Brexit customs checks and pave the way to restore Stormont’s power-sharing executive.
Democratic Unionist party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson announced the agreement to end nearly two years of political paralysis in the early hours of Tuesday after a five-hour meeting of more than 100 DUP executives.
While the full details of the deal have yet to be released, Donaldson told BBC Radio Ulster on Tuesday morning that a controversial part of the customs border that Brexit imposed in the Irish Sea would be removed.
Such a change would mean “zero checks, zero customs paperwork on goods moving within the UK — that takes away the border within the UK between Northern Ireland and Great Britain”, Donaldson said.
Donaldson said he was referring to goods that are destined to remain in Northern Ireland rather than those that continue over the Irish border and into the EU.
The DUP leader said the party would return to Stormont provided the UK government “faithfully delivers on the implementation of its legal and other commitments”. Such legislation was expected as early as Wednesday, he said.
He added that the deal would end “dynamic alignment”, under which UK trade law in Northern Ireland is required to align automatically with EU law.
Donaldson triggered the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing executive and assembly in February 2022 because of his party’s opposition to post-Brexit trading arrangements then known as the Northern Ireland protocol. This agreement kept Northern Ireland within the EU single market for goods.
Last year, the UK government and Brussels unveiled the Windsor framework, which was designed to iron out problems with the protocol, but the DUP said the changes still did not go far enough.
The announcement of the deal came after a dramatic evening in which a prominent loyalist activist — who is not in the party but is opposed to a deal — posted what he said was a running commentary of an angry and chaotic meeting with details allegedly leaked by participants.
Donaldson has been battling for months to secure a compromise deal that will placate party hardliners who fiercely oppose post-Brexit trading arrangements for the region. He did not deny there had been leaks. “I don’t know who was doing it. I don’t know how that was done,” he said.
Stormont’s first minister-designate Michelle O’Neill, of the nationalist Sinn Féin party, welcomed the new deal and said the parties would meet later on Tuesday.
The European Commission declined to comment on Donaldson’s statements, which implied a drastic rewrite of the Windsor framework.
Steve Baker, junior Northern Ireland minister, posted on X that the deal contained “no commitments of any kind to align GB with EU law [or] prevent GB from diverging from any retained EU law”.
The DUP executive approved the deal, struck after months of bilateral talks with the UK government, but Donaldson declined to give details of how many opposed it.
He acknowledged he had not secured everything he wanted and vowed to fight for further change at Westminster and at Stormont.
Chris Heaton-Harris, the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary, welcomed the deal. “Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said this is subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist party and the UK government — I can confirm that we will stick to this agreement,” he said.
London has promised a £3.3bn financial package for the region, contingent on Stormont’s return. That includes £600mn for public sector pay awards and Donaldson called on Heaton-Harris to release that money immediately as “a measure of goodwill”.
The DUP has been boycotting Stormont entirely since elections in May 2022, in which it came second to Sinn Féin.
Arriving for Monday night’s marathon meeting, Donaldson was met by about 40 protesters with placards including “Stop the DUP sellout”. Hardline loyalists outside the party have also maintained pressure not to “surrender” over Brexit trading rules.
Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson posted on social media platform X what he said was a blow-by-blow description of the meeting leaked from inside the room, including a description of furious party figures shouting, “Phones off!” to try to contain leaks, and scenes of what he said was “fury and mayhem”.
Donaldson called Bryson’s posts a “misrepresentation of what was said and what was happening”. But he said it was “regrettable” that trust had been breached.
Credit: Source link