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Secretary of State meets Stormont parties for talks in Hillsborough

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture by Hugh Russell

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris says the Windsor Framework will be implemented into law.

A vote on the Stormont brake passed in the Commons yesterday despite DUP opposition and the party’s confirmation that it will not re-enter the Stormont assembly.

Mr Heaton-Harris spoke of the nature of his talks with Northern Ireland party leaders at Hillsborough Castle today.

“We’ve been talking about the Windsor Framework, how a deal that everybody said that could not be done between the UK Government and the European Union has been done to solve all the practical and many other issues that were caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol of the past, and that that deal is done,” he said.

“And that deal is going to be accepted at a joint committee meeting tomorrow and will become international law shortly afterwards. There is no renegotiating of that deal.

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The Northern Ireland Secretary also responded to DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson’s characterisation of the Windsor Framework as a ‘sticking plaster’.

“The Windsor framework is not a sticking plaster, it’s a solution to the problems that were produced by the protocol and it will work,” Chris Heaton-Harris said.

“And the two sides to those negotiations which have concluded, the UK Government and the European Union, are going to make the framework work.
So there is nothing more to get out of that conversation. It is done.”

Mr Heaton-Harris added: “Now I think it’s down to the communities of Northern Ireland to work out how best it can work for them. I think it can work for them really well.

“I do believe it will herald, alongside the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday agreement, the next 25 years could be all about prosperity, if everybody puts their shoulder to the wheel.”

 

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson following talks with Chris Heaton-Harris in Hillsborough today. Picture by Hugh Russell

 

Speaking today party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Windsor Framework is a “sticking plaster” and that he is looking forward to negotiating with the UK Prime Minister and Secretary of State.

“I am not interested in sticking plasters, they don’t work and I’m afraid there is in the Windsor Framework an element of the sticking plaster,” Mr Donaldson said.

“It won’t work, it will not deliver the long term stability and prosperity that Northern Ireland.”

 
The Alliance Party is among the parties holding talks with the secretary of state today. Picture by Hugh Russell

 

He continued: “We’re looking primarily to the Prime Minister and to the Government of the United Kingdom. No better place than here at Royal Hillsborough to say to the Government we need to sort this out, we need to get the change that is required to deliver stable sustainable government in Northern Ireland.

He added: “When the Foreign Secretary comes back from Brussels, when the Prime Minister has the time, we’ll be sitting down with them along with the Secretary of State and we’ll be putting our case.”

 

Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill speak to the media in Hillsborough. Picture by Hugh Russell

 

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill has said the Northern Ireland budget that will be decided by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris will be “catastrophic” for public services.

“The budget is about to be agreed with no ministers at the helm. A budget is going to be agreed by the Secretary of State working with permanent secretaries who should not be in this position,” Ms O’Neill said. “This is a budget that’s going to cause demonstrable damage to public services.

“So we made a very strong message to Chris Heaton-Harris. What is the plan? There needs to be a plan to restore the executive because this budget is about to cause catastrophic damage to public services.

She added: “I believe our public services are already stretched, I know that our public sector workers are right across the board on strike action and rightly so for fair pay and conditions.

“These are all things that need to be settled, that’s the job of politics. So that’s why I’m saying very, very clearly that we’re in for eye-watering, catastrophic implications of a budget, that would be an unadulterated Tory budget, because it would be a secretary of state who gets to call it not local politicians.”

 

The UUP is meeting the secretary of state today. Picture by Hugh Russell

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he was “disappointed to hear” that the DUP is not willing to re-enter the Northern Ireland Assembly in its continuing protest against post-Brexit trade agreements.

 

 

Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill are in Hillsborough to meet the secretary of state. Picture by Hugh Russell

 

 

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