A resolution to the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol is unlikely to be found before Stormont Assembly elections in May, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said “very little progress” was being made in negotiations between the UK government and the EU, describing the likelihood of a quick resolution as “fairly low”.
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission, met in London on Friday to begin a series of intensive talks in an attempt to end the deadlock over the protocol. Despite both sides saying they want a deal before March, hopes of success have remained dim, with Boris Johnson privately pricing the chance of a new deal for Northern Ireland being agreed this month at less than 30 per cent .
The DUP leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is very little progress in the talks, as we saw yesterday. I think the likelihood of an agreement being reached by the time we do is actually quite low. This was confirmed to me by the Prime Minister.
“He does not expect, unless something drastically changes, that a deal will be reached this side of an election, to remove the Irish Sea boundary.”
Donaldson said he “wishes[ed] it was otherwise”. The DUP leader added: “I want to see the political institutions restored and fully operational – we are committed to that. But we want to see Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market fully restored.
His remarks follow the resignation last week of Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan of the DUP in protest at the protocol. The party says the protocol, designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, has eroded a cornerstone of power-sharing in the region – governance by both Nationalists and Unionists. The UK is pursuing an interim deal that would remove most controls on food and farm products, followed by a broader solution on government after the May election.
Assembly elections are scheduled for May 5, but there will be no functioning executive during the interim period, which means that some policy decisions cannot be made.
Donaldson said that while the assembly continues to pass laws and departmental ministers are able to make decisions, “obviously without an executive being able to meet, without the north-south ministerial council being in place , there are certain decisions that cannot be made”.
He accused the UK government of “dishonoring” its commitment to protecting Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market. “We came into government at the start of 2020 following an agreement called New Decade, New Approach, and in that agreement the UK Government made a solemn commitment to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market, to introduce measures to provide this protection.
“More than two years later he has failed to do so and we believe the UK government has dishonored the agreement which was the basis for restoring devolved institutions in Northern Ireland,” he said. , adding that the DUP felt it was “now for the government to follow through and honor this commitment”.