N.Irish unionist party ties return to assembly to success of UK govt protocol plans

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: British MP Sammy Wilson gestures as he speaks during a meeting on Ukraine, in London

By Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) -The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will only move to restore Northern Ireland's regional parliament if it is sure British government plans to override post-Brexit trade rules for the region will become law, a senior lawmaker said on Monday.

The DUP blocked the restoration of Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration after an election last month, saying it would not facilitate the regional assembly sitting until all checks or planned post-Brexit checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland are removed.

Britain will set out plans on Monday to override parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that governs post-Brexit trade, in a bid to ease unionist concerns over the deal it signed with the European Union and convince the DUP, the region's largest pro-British party, to go back into government.

"We'd be a very foolish party if at this stage we'd give commitments about specific times. It's not the time that is important, it's the content that's important," Sammy Wilson, a DUP member of the British parliament, told BBC Northern Ireland.

"If this bill has a tempestuous process through the House of Commons, amendment after amendment, attempts to weaken it, it's likely it will face the same in the House of Lords, our assessment would be it would be very foolish to make any commitment to go back into the Assembly."

It could take many months or longer for the legislation to pass through both houses of parliament in London.

The election to the Northern Irish parliament reaffirmed that a majority of lawmakers favour retaining the protocol and that trade frictions should be smoothed through negotiations with the EU.

Those parties criticised London's approach in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson which they published on Monday.

"We reject in the strongest possible terms your government's reckless new protocol legislation, which flies in the face of the expressed wishes of not just most businesses, but most people in Northern Ireland," said the letter signed by 52 of the region's 90 lawmakers, including those from the largest party, Sinn Fein.

"Whilst not ideal, the protocol currently represents the only available protections for Northern Ireland from the worst impacts of that hard Brexit. The protocol also offers clear economic advantages to our region, and the opportunity for unique access to two major markets."

The letter was not signed by a single unionist politician.

(Reporting by Amanda Ferguson, Writing by Padraic Halpin, Editing by Gareth Jones and Ed Osmond)

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