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Editorial: DUP still dragging its feet on power-sharing ahead of Stormont brake Windsor Framework vote

AFTER last week's St Patrick's Day events in Washington DC, the political focus now shifts back to this side of the Atlantic for the latest phase of the Brexit saga that has already blighted our politics for far too long.

At Westminster on Monday, the British government will publish the legislation to implement the Windsor Framework's centrepiece Stormont brake mechanism. On Tuesday in Brussels, the EU Council ministers will meet to sign off the deal.

Then, on Wednesday in the House of Commons, MPs will get the chance to debate the Framework followed by a vote on the Stormont brake legislation.

There will inevitably be a focus on the DUP's approach to the vote. Given the negative rhetoric thus far from its MPs, particularly Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley, it seems almost impossible that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and his colleagues will suddenly back the Framework.

A more likely outcome is that the DUP will continue to drag its feet on adopting a formal position. Sir Jeffrey may feel he can continue to kick the can down the road until his eight-member panel examining the Framework has deigned to report. It will seem ludicrous to many that the fate of power-sharing lies in the hands of an unelected few.

It is three weeks since the Framework was announced. Whatever the finer detail of the legal text that will be published today, Mr Sunak believes there has been ample time for MPs to have made up their minds.

Even if the European Research Group fringe of Tory backbenchers come out against the deal, the government is expected to win the vote, not least because Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have said they will join SDLP and Alliance MPs in supporting the new post-Brexit arrangements.

The ERG is a diminished force; previous leading lights such as secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris and NIO minister Steve Baker are now enthusiastic backers of the Framework.

Mr Sunak appears determined to carry on regardless of any internal Conservative opposition. Nor does he seem minded to indulge the DUP in the same way as his predecessors.

The DUP should, of course, back the Framework in this week's vote and set about immediately ending its entirely illogical and unjustifiable boycott of power-sharing.

With Westminster, Brussels and Washington backing the deal, it is unsustainable for a party with 21 per cent of the north's vote to hold up political and economic progress, especially when a return to Stormont remains the only logical destination for the DUP.

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