DUP not interested in ‘sticking plaster’ approach to protocol issues, Donaldson tells Taoiseach

Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Jeffrey Donaldson said he told Taoiseach Micheál Martin he is not interested in a “sticking plaster” approach to solving problems with the Northern Ireland protocol in a meeting he described as “useful”.

The Taoiseach is in Belfast for talks aimed at breaking the political deadlock caused by unionist concerns over the protocol and restoring a functioning Assembly and Executive at Stormont.

The mood in Dublin over the UK’s approach to the post-Brexit protocol continued to darken ahead of Mr Martin’s meetings with Northern political party leaders and business representatives.

The threat remains of unilateral action by the UK government – which has said it will soon begin legislating to set aside parts of the protocol it agreed as part of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Earlier on Friday morning Mr Martin said the UK government had moved “too far in a unilateral way” over its approach to the Northern Ireland protocol, which was not in accordance with the spirit of the Belfast Agreement.

He told the BBC: “I spoke to Boris Johnson and I have to nail this, this idea that somehow the European Union is being inflexible on this is just not the truth, it doesn’t stack up.

“What has happened now is a certain unilateralism on behalf of the British government saying ‘our way or no way’ and you don’t negotiate with the European Union on that basis, particularly when you have signed off on the agreement that you now don’t like.

“Professional, serious negotiations between the United Kingdom government and the European Union is the only way to resolve this.”

Speaking after the meeting on Friday, DUP leader Mr Donaldson said: “We spelled it out very clearly to him [the Taoiseach] the problems with the protocol, the harm it is doing to Northern Ireland and that we need a solution, we need decisive action to deal with these problems.

“We are not interested in a sticking plaster approach, or tinkering around the edges, it has to be fundamental change which respects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and nothing short of that will suffice.

“I think when the EU talk about proposals, they have a very limited mandate and that mandate is to bring forward ideas within the context of operating the current protocol, but that doesn’t deal with any of the issues that we have in respect of our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Donaldson said he wanted to see the UK government publish its plans over the Northern Ireland protocol before making any decision on restoring the Stormont political institutions.

He said: “We were very clear we would not enter the institutions until the issues around the protocol are dealt with, I never said that was limited to the Executive. We want to work those institutions, we want them to be fully functioning but we are clear we need decisive action on the protocol.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘This idea that somehow the European Union is being inflexible on this is just not the truth, it doesn’t stack up.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘This idea that somehow the European Union is being inflexible on this is just not the truth, it doesn’t stack up.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

NI Assembly

Earlier Mr Martin said there cannot be a situation where one political party is refusing to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to meet, saying it is “unheard of in a democratic world”.

Following this month’s Northern Irish election, the DUP blocked the appointment of a speaker at Stormont as part of its protest over the protocol, which means the Assembly cannot sit and there is only a caretaker Executive with limited powers.

Mr Martin said: “I think most people would agree that in the democratic world when people vote for their representatives and vote to elect a parliament, the first thing that happens is that parliament should convene.

“We can’t have a situation where one political party determines that the other political parties can’t convene in a parliament. I understand there are legitimate issues that have been issued in respect of the protocol. We have accepted that for quite some time.”

Mr Martin added: “Decisive action was taken by the European Union last October, significant advances on a whole range of issues as the basis for further discussions.

“The British government did not respond in any meaningful way to the proposals that were put forward by the European Commission. The challenge that I see here is that the goalposts keep on changing in respect of the protocol, or where the landing zone for a resolution of the legitimate issues that have been raised by people are.”

‘Landing zone’

Also speaking after a meeting with Mr Martin on Friday, Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said he proposed a “landing zone” solution to the Taoiseach over issues with the protocol.

Mr Beattie said: “There is no requirement on checks on goods that come from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they are staying in Northern Ireland. If they are going on to the EU single market then they can be checked, and all we need to do is make sure that the scaffolding and the architecture is put in place to make sure that that can happen.

“That is the landing zone and we believe that landing zone will get people back into government. We asked the Taoiseach to make representations to the European Union to that effect.”

Truss meeting

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he has “made clear” to UK foreign secretary Liz Truss that the Irish Government opposes the UK breaching international law.

Mr Coveney made the comment after meeting Ms Truss on Friday about ongoing concerns around the protocol.

He tweeted: “I made clear Ireland’s opposition to the UK breaching international law. The UK needs to get back to talks with the EU.”

Speaking ahead of their meeting, Mr Coveney said “there can be no ambiguity” that Ms Truss was proposing to “break international law deliberately” through the legislation over-riding parts of the protocol. Ms Truss has said she intends to publish a legal statement backing up her plans.

“She can justify that if she wants to in the House of Commons in terms of British law, but there is no ambiguity in my mind that this is a government choosing to legislate in a way to set aside international law that they themselves have been responsible for designing, ratifying and agreeing,” he said. – Additional reporting PA

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