The DUP’s strategy in opposing the Northern Ireland Protocol has been vindicated, party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Speaking to party members and supporters in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, Sir Jeffrey said that people in London, Dublin and Brussels now recognise that the “sacrifice of consensus politics on the altar of the protocol was a mistake”.
The DUP is blocking the functioning of powersharing at Stormont and has made clear it will not allow devolution to return unless major changes to the protocol are delivered.
Talks remain ongoing between the UK and the EU over the protocol, part of the post-Brexit deal which keeps Northern Ireland aligned with some EU trade rules, effectively placing a trade border in the Irish Sea.
Both sides are keen to strike a deal to break the logjam over the contentious trading arrangements before the 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s historic Good Friday peace agreement in April.
Many unionists are fiercely opposed to the treaty which they claim has weakened the region’s place within the union.
The DUP leader said: “We warned London, Washington, Dublin and Brussels in July 2021 that the Northern Ireland Protocol was incompatible with powersharing and our hard-won politically balanced arrangements.
“We gave time and space for these fundamental concerns to be addressed but that time was not utilised.
“Instead, some local parties told us that the protocol had to be ‘rigorously implemented’. No one is saying that now.
“We are seeking the restoration of democratic decision-making to the Assembly, replacing the democratic deficit created by the protocol.
“Why should anyone want to deny the people of Northern Ireland, through their democratically elected representatives, a say or a vote on vast swathes of the laws governing our economy and which affect the people of Northern Ireland so directly?”
Sir Jeffrey said that the protocol is not and will not be supported by unionists.
He added: “It was a mistake for its authors to press ahead with an agreement that has harmed Northern Ireland’s constitutional and economic place within the United Kingdom.
“Whilst I welcome that there is public recognition that it was a mistake to ignore the objections of unionists, the greatest misstep would be if the same mistake were to be repeated.
“Political progress in Northern Ireland has been painstakingly slow at times but it has never been achieved by one side ignoring the concerns of the other.
“With a divided society, we need to work together.
“Not one unionist MP or MLA supported the protocol. Such a one-sided approach was never going to work. We need a deal that unionists as well as nationalists can support.”
Sir Jeffrey continued: “All of this work will only be worthwhile if we can reach a balanced and durable outcome.
“There will be no solid basis for an Executive and Assembly until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and our constitutional arrangements are respected.
“Recognising mistakes is one thing but learning the lesson that consensus is the only way forward must be at the forefront of minds in London and Brussels rather than any dates on the calendar.”
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