Northern Ireland

DUP MP Sammy Wilson calls British government ‘spineless’ and ‘Brexit-betraying’ as deal announced

Secretary of STate Chris Heaton-Harris argued the agreement was the ‘right one’ for Northern Ireland and for the union.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the Government’s ‘rationale for this decision is as spurious as it is outrageous’ (David Young/PA)
DUP MP Sammy Wilson criticised the British government DUP MP Sammy Wilson criticised the British government

British government was branded “spineless” and “Brexit-betraying” after it unveiled what it hailed as the “right” deal to restore powersharing at Stormont.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said EU law alignment would no longer automatically apply under the Government’s plans, adding legislation will be passed to reaffirm Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.

He praised DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson for his commitment to the union and work during the negotiations, telling MPs: “The result, as I hope honourable members will agree, is a deal that, 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.”

Mr Heaton-Harris added: “It is time to build on the progress of the last 25 years.

“Today we have presented a plan which will deliver the long-term change that Northern Ireland needs. It will strengthen Northern Ireland’s place in our union and guarantee the free flow of goods across the entire United Kingdom.

“It’s only by sticking to this plan that we will become a more united and prosperous country together.”

For Labour, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Hilary Benn described the agreement as a “great achievement” while DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson said: “We have turned the impossible into the possible.”

Cartoon showing Michelle O'Neill and Jeffrey Donaldson driving a car. Jeffrey is in some discomfort as Ian Paisley, Nigel Poots and Sammy Wilson angrily watch him
Ian Knox cartoon 31/1/24

But Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim, was less than impressed as he said: “When the Northern Ireland assembly sits, ministers and assembly members will be expected by law to adhere to and implement laws which are made in Brussels, which they had no say over and no ability to amend, and no ability to stop.

“This is a result of this spineless, weak-kneed, Brexit-betraying government, refusing to take on the EU and its interference in Northern Ireland.”

He added: “Is Northern Ireland going to find it’s got the ability to stay tied to the United Kingdom, or will the Government proceed happily to change laws here regardless of the impact it has on Northern Ireland?”

Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “On the fourth anniversary of leaving the European Union, I can tell him absolutely that this agreed package of measures will not change the freedoms and powers we have secured through Brexit or through the Windsor Framework.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris speaks to the media in College Green, Westminster
Stormont Assembly Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris speaks to the media in College Green, Westminster (Victoria Jones/PA)

“It will not reduce our ability to diverge nor our commitment to do so should it be in the interest of the United Kingdom.”

Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers and Conservative MP Sir William Cash (Stone) also questioned the influence of EU laws on Northern Ireland.

Ms Villiers said: “I’m sure there will be much to welcome in the papers published today and we’ll need to scrutinise them carefully in the 30 or so hours before we’re going to be asked to vote on them.

“But one thing we know that they don’t contain is a removal of Northern Ireland from single market legislation, so will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government is committed to continuing the dialogue with the European Union so that we can amend the Windsor Framework, so that we can restore democratic control over law-making in every part of our United Kingdom?”

Sir William asked what was being done to ensure the UK Government can “remove or veto the imposition of EU laws on Northern Ireland”.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the assembly will have a powerful “democratic safeguard” when it comes to EU laws.

Conservative former minister Priti Patel said: “It is vital that we ensure that (there is) the ability to diverge and have the freedom to secure Northern Ireland’s economic lifeblood but also the prosperity of Northern Ireland absolutely remains.”

Mr Heaton-Harris gave her assurances, saying: “This will not reduce our ability to diverge nor our commitment to do so should it be in the interests of the United Kingdom.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described it as a “very good day for the people of Northern Ireland” before suggesting the UK and Irish governments, along with the political parties, should look at how to reform the Good Friday Agreement institutions to “make sure no one party can ever pull them down again”.

Some MPs expressed concerns over the amount of time expected to be available in the Commons on Thursday to debate statutory instruments (SIs) to enshrine several of the deal’s commitments in law.

DUP MP Paul Girvan (South Antrim) said: “We very much feel we’re being bounced on a timetable where we’re not going to get through the detail that is supposedly in the SIs and also this document.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) said the maximum time possible will “probably be three hours”, describing it as “insufficient”.