Northern Ireland news

DUP leader sets up panel to inform deliberations on Windsor Framework deal

Former first minister turned GB News presenter Baroness Arlene Foster. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
David Young and Rebecca Black, PA

The DUP has established a consultation panel to inform its deliberations on the new deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Former DUP leaders and first ministers Peter Robinson and Baroness Arlene Foster are among those on the eight-member panel announced by current leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Sir Jeffrey has made clear that the DUP will take its time to consider the Windsor Framework before deciding whether to back it and lift its current blockade of devolution at Stormont.

He said the panel would report to him by the end of March.

“Today I have established a group to commence and undertake a wide consultation process within Northern Ireland, listening and taking views on the Framework document,” he said.

“This work will be undertaken in parallel with our on-going engagement with the UK Government.

Former First Minister Peter Robinson and DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson during the Funeral for DUP MLA Christopher Stalford at Ravenhill Presbyterian Church in Belfast on Saturday..Mr Stalford a Former High Sheriff and Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, Died suddenly at home on 19th February..Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker .....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker ....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker.

 

“The group will comprise both members of our party as well as independent thinkers who have standing within the broader community.

“They will want to engage with a broad section of the unionist and loyalist community, the business sector, civic society and others who want to see Northern Ireland prosper within the Union.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the framework deal last week after months of intensive negotiations aimed at reducing checks on Irish Sea trade created by Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.

While cutting back on checks required on goods destined for use in Northern Ireland arriving from Great Britain, the deal also contains a new mechanism – the so-called “Stormont brake” – that offers a minority of MLAs (30 from at least two parties) the ability to refer to the UK Government its concerns about the introduction of new EU laws in Northern Ireland.

The Government could then potentially prevent the application of those laws in the region.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

 

Mr Sunak has also committed to amending the 1998 Northern Ireland Act to provide further reassurance to unionists about the region’s constitutional status within the UK.

Some prominent DUP figures, including Lord Dodds and MPs Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley, have already suggested that the deal potentially does not go far enough to address their concerns over trade and sovereignty.

The immediate future of devolution at Stormont rests on whether the DUP agree to go back into powersharing.

London and Brussels are both keen to see the institution restored ahead of next month’s landmark 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement.

Sir Jeffrey said the panel comprises individuals with “political, legal and business experience”.

Its members are DUP MP Carla Lockhart, DUP peer Lord Weir, former DUP leaders and Stormont first ministers Mr Robinson and Baroness Foster, businessman Ross Reed, lawyer John McBurney and DUP MLAs Brian Kingston and Deborah Erskine.

 

Freight lorries travelling through the Port of Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)