Northern Ireland

British government warned over granting DUP a veto as protocol deal edges closer

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly

THE BRITISH government has been told that "no one political party can have a veto" over a deal with Brussels on the protocol.

The warning came as Tory MPs were ordered to be at Westminster on Monday amid growing expectation of a final agreement between the EU and UK on the post-Brexit trade arrangements.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday afternoon, with Downing Street describing the call as "positive". The pair are expected to speak again.

The Tory leader is reported to have put his cabinet on alert for a possible conference call over the weekend, while the PA news agency has been told that Conservative MPs have received a three-line whip for Monday, meaning they must be in the House of Commons.

Earlier in the day Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who has been at the fore in recent negotiations with Brussels, said he's unlikely to sign off on a deal without DUP backing.

He told Times Radio that the UK government was focused on addressing the DUP's concerns.

"When hopefully we get those issues resolved then I would hope that the DUP would recognise that we've addressed their concerns and until we have addressed those concerns we're not going to sign off on the deal," he said.

Mr Cleverly said his government was "absolutely in alignment" with the DUP, which in tandem with the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), has been applying pressure on Mr Sunak over recent days.

The foreign secretary said some of the issues being discussed were "technical trade issues and very complicated" while others were "really simple but important principles like Northern Ireland's place as an integral part of the United Kingdom".

But Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said any deal "must be about doing the right thing for Northern Ireland".

"No one political party can have a veto," he told The Irish News.

"The UK government should not indulge this from either the DUP or ERG – indeed, their stated public positions are still not grounded in the reality of Northern Ireland having by necessity some form of special arrangements in the context of a hard Brexit."

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said the focus of any deal should be "securing dual market access for businesses in Northern Ireland to mitigate the enormous cost of Brexit on the UK economy".

"This isn’t about victory for political parties, it’s about prosperity and a better future for people in all our communities," he said.

Meanwhile, a House of Lords report has warned that more needs to be done to ensure the protocol does not disrupt medicine supplies to the north.

Brussels has taken steps to ease the situation but the peers' report calls for an increased effort.

Northern Ireland Protocol sub-committee chair Lord Jay said: "There is a widespread assumption that the EU legislation that came into force in April 2022 has resolved the problems with supply of medicines to Northern Ireland. This is clearly not so.

"While the legislation was welcome as far as it went, it is clear that significant issues remain unresolved."

He said there was a "misapprehension" that the matter had been resolved.