DUP would be ‘foolish' to trust the Government on Protocol, Michelle O'Neill says

 Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill
David Young, PA

The DUP would be “foolish” to trust the UK Government on the Northern Ireland Protocol given the number of times it has thrown the party “under the bus” over Brexit, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The Sinn Féin vice president’s comments came after the DUP welcomed the Government move to act unilaterally to scrap parts of the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The north’s main unionist party is currently blocking the re-establishment of Stormont’s powersharing institutions in protest at the protocol, which has created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

While welcoming Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s controversial announcement yesterday to legislate to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal treaty, the DUP has said it will adopt a “graduated and cautious” approach to re-engaging with the devolved institutions depending on the progress of the legislation.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the party needs assurances in the form of actions, not words.

Ms O’Neill said Sir Jeffrey would be ill-advised to trust the Government, suggesting his party had been burned by promises from this Conservative government before.

Before he was prime minister, Boris Johnson famously pledged to the DUP party conference he would never agree to a Brexit deal that created economic barriers in the Irish Sea. He subsequently struck a deal that contained the protocol.

“The British Government are pandering to the DUP and their approach and the DUP would be very foolish to trust Boris Johnson given how many times that they have actually threw them under the bus,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said the DUP’s boycott of powersharing was “punishing” people suffering in the cost-of-living crisis, as Stormont was powerless to help without a functioning executive.

“They’re punishing the public for their Brexit mess,” she said.

“They’ve delivered us the hardest possible Brexit along with the Tories and now they’re punishing everybody out there in the public that’s worried about heating their homes and putting food on their table by staying out of the executive. That is not acceptable.”

On the UK move to legislate to nullify the protocol, Ms O’Neill added: “I think that the British Government, the Tories, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss should spend all of their energies trying to find an agreed way forward.

“What the business community here want is certainty and stability, what I want to see is certainty and stability, so Boris Johnson instead of shoring up the DUP, instead of further destabilising our politics should get on with trying to find an agreed way forward, make the protocol work, smooth its implementation – we’re up for that and always have been.

“That’s where all their efforts and energies need to be instead of this sabre-rattling, this ideological battle which they have with the European project, and then we’re caught out in the middle here as a people.

“I don’t think that’s acceptable.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson claimed nationalists at Stormont wanted unionists to “sit in the corner and be quiet” about the protocol.

“Since the election, the SDLP and Sinn Féin attitude to unionists has been ‘sit there and be quiet’,” he said.

“Well, unionists will not be quiet. With not a single unionist MLA or MP supporting the protocol, we will be making our voices heard. We have been raising our lack of support for the protocol for more than two years. We have been reasonable and patient.”

The East Antrim MP added: “The cosy coalition of Alliance, Sinn Féin and SDLP MLAs may want unionists to sit in the corner in silence but our vision is one of Northern Ireland where there is genuine powersharing, where there is genuine commitment to catering for unionists and nationalists and where respect is not a one-way street.

“If we can restore Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, then the prize is great. The prize is stable devolution and the integrity of the EU and UK markets protected.”

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