Northern Ireland news

DUP 'naive' to concede regulatory alignment ahead of nailing down consent

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the withdrawal agreement breaches the principle of consent in the Good Friday Agreement. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

A LEADING authority on the DUP believes the party was "naive" to concede Northern Ireland's regulatory alignment with the single market without guarantees on Stormont's consent mechanism.

University of Liverpool academic Jon Tonge, author of DUP – From Protest to Power, said the party's negotiation strategy had been "risky" and that its bid for an "unambiguous unionist veto" had failed.

If Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is ratified, the British government will enact legislation that will provide a "democratic consent mechanism" for the Stormont assembly which would enable Northern Ireland to opt out of regulatory alignment with the single market.

The Northern Ireland Protocol published on Thursday states that the outcome of an assembly vote based on a simple majority will ensure alignment continues for a further four years but if support is not forthcoming the rules will cease to apply after two years.

However, the protocol also states that if support is secured for alignment on a cross-community basis, the period of operation would extend to eight years.

The protocol defines cross-community support as a weighted majority – 60 per cent – of MLAs present and voting, including at least 40 present of each of the nationalist and unionist designations.

Both voting mechanisms reflect the safeguards included in Strand One of the Good Friday Agreement, although it remains unclear how the assembly would decide which one to apply.

In the weeks running up to Thursday's breakthrough deal, the DUP had hoped to secure an assembly veto based on deployment of a petition of concern.

But according to Mr Tonge, the DUP conceded regulatory alignment too soon before the consent mechanism was finalised

"There's no possibility of nationalists voting against EU alignment, so there really isn't a veto there for the DUP," he told The Irish News.

"They've completely lost out on consent – that's why they're so enraged."

The academic described the DUP's previous endorsement of a so-called border in the Irish Sea on regulatory alignment as "jaw-dropping".

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday claimed the withdrawal agreement as it stands breaches the principle of consent in the 1998 peace accord.

"The safeguard (on consent) was built into the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement but now it seems that safeguard is being eroded and diminished and that's a very worrying development," he told the BBC.

"It has consequences for not only how we handle Brexit but also for the restoration of the institutions."

The Irish News asked the DUP and Sir Jeffrey to specify their objections to the consent element of the deal but they did not respond.

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