Northern Ireland news

DUP MPs to vote against trade deal as assembly is recalled for debate

Arlene Foster said DUP MPs would vote against the EU-UK trade deal because they had reservations about the protocol. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

THE DUP's eight MPs will vote against the EU-UK trade deal when Westminster seeks to ratify the eleventh hour agreement tomorrow.

The north's remaining three non-abstentionist MPs – the SDLP's Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna and Alliance's Stephen Farry – are also expected to reject the deal hammered out on Christmas Eve.

As Westminster returns from recess tomorrow to vote on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the Stormont assembly also looks likely to be recalled for a so-called take note debate on the deal. The decision to write to the assembly speaker and request a recall was taken yesterday afternoon at a virtual meeting of the executive.

Ahead of the executive meeting, EU ambassadors voted unanimously to give provisional approval to the tariff-free trade deal, which is effective from the end of the transition period on Friday.

Both the House of Commons and the Lords are expected to back the agreement, with Labour ordering its MPs to vote for the "thin" treaty because the only other option is a chaotic departure without a trade deal.

The European Parliament must also formally ratify the deal in the new year, although this will now apply retrospectively.

In a statement last night, DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party's MPs would vote against the deal even though they recognised that it would reduce the impact on trade flows from Britain to the north. She said the party had outstanding concerns about the protocol that imposes a regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

"We will continue to work to mitigate the worst excesses of the separate Northern Ireland arrangements whilst exploring new opportunities for Northern Ireland," Mrs Foster said.

"Our challenge going forward will be to press the government to get a better outcome in those areas where more work is needed."

The first minster noted that the protocol arrangements were temporary and that the assembly would have the "opportunity to revisit the protocol and vote upon it in four years time".

The decision to recall the assembly, with tomorrow looking the most likely day for the debate, came after Sinn Féin chief whip John O'Dowd said MLAs needed to discuss the Brexit trade deal and to reiterate the call for the full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol.

"This is a hugely important issue which will bring additional costs and challenges for businesses and families alike and the assembly should be recalled to debate a motion outlining our continuing opposition to Brexit and to call once again for the protections already agreed to be implemented," the Upper Bann MLA said.

A spokesman for the executive office said: "A special meeting of the executive was held this afternoon to consider the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU.

"Ministers provided an initial high level assessment of the agreement and officials will bring forward detailed analysis for executive consideration."

The spokesman said the executive agreed that the first minister and deputy first minister should write to the assembly speaker to ask for a recall to debate the trade deal.

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