The DUP will take a “graduated and cautious” approach to re-engaging with Stormont power-sharing – depending on the progress of legislation to override parts of the Brexit protocol, party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said.
Mr Donaldson described the government’s announcement to table a Bill that would enable it to act unilaterally to change parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol as a “welcome if overdue step”.
But he stressed that his party, which has refused to return to a devolved government in Northern Ireland in protest at the Irish Sea trading arrangements, needed to see action rather than words from London.
A new executive cannot be formed in Belfast following the recent election unless the DUP agrees to fill the post of deputy first minister.
The party has also declined to support the nomination of a new Assembly speaker, meaning the legislature at Parliament Buildings cannot meet.
Mr Donaldson has made it clear that radical changes to the protocol must be delivered if the party is to re-engage with power-sharing.
Responding to Tuesday’s announcement by UK foreign secretary Liz Truss, the DUP leader told the Commons: “From the outset in this House, the DUP warned about the consequences of this protocol and that’s why we opposed it from the beginning, because we recognised the political and economic instability it would cause and the harm it would create for the union itself.
“The statement today is a welcome if overdue step that is a significant move towards addressing the problems created by the protocol and getting power-sharing based upon a cross-community consensus up and running again.
“Therefore, we hope to see progress on a Bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks, not months, and as the legislation progresses we will take a graduated and cautious approach.
“We want to see the Irish Sea border removed and the government honouring its commitments in the New Decade, New Approach agreement (the 2020 deal that restored power-sharing) to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
“The statement today indicates this will be covered in the legislation to bring about new revised arrangements.
“Under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, power-sharing can only be stable if consensus exists on a cross-community basis. It does not exist at the moment on the part of the unionist community.
“We want to see the political institutions properly functioning as soon as possible, but to restore unionist confidence, decisive action is now needed in the form of legislation to repair the harm done by the protocol to the acts of union and put in place sensible arrangements that, in the words of the Queen’s speech, ensure the continued success and integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom, including the internal economic bonds between all its parts.
“Finally, Mr Speaker, the words today are a good start, but the foreign secretary will know that it is actions that speak louder than words and I welcome her commitment to such decisive action in this statement to the house.”
Alliance party MLA Sorcha Eastwood has said that comments by Ms Truss do not provide any solution to the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The comments by Ms Truss were being presented as a breakthrough, but that was not the way to go about it, that was not what businesses were asking for, she told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
The issues could be “worked through and dealt with”, she said, but she did not think a suggestion by Ms Truss of a dual regime was “a goer”.
There was a “hodge podge” of suggestions emerging, she said. “This is a lot of rehashed ideas” being combined together as a fig leaf to assuage the DUP.
The other parties elected to the new Assembly were ready and willing to get to work, but it appeared that their votes did not count because of the actions of the DUP. There needed to be a change.
“We have a voice, and we have a right to speak for the people of Northern Ireland,” Ms Eastwood said.
It was not good enough for one party to resist and stop the work of others.
“Let’s continue dialogue and get a break through” she urged.
-Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke