Advertisement

Package to restore powersharing ‘right deal for Northern Ireland and the Union’

Package to restore powersharing ‘right deal for Northern Ireland and the Union’

A Government package to restore powersharing at Stormont is the right deal for Northern Ireland and the Union, the Northern Ireland Secretary has insisted.

Chris Heaton-Harris was speaking at a joint press conference at Hillsborough Castle with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson after the Government published measures that would end routine post-Brexit checks on goods shipped from Great Britain to final destinations in Northern Ireland.

A command paper titled Safeguarding The Union commits to replacing the current green lane process, which requires percentages of goods to be checked as they arrive from Great Britain, with a “UK internal market system” that will govern the movement of goods that will remain within the United Kingdom.

Sir Jeffrey has hailed the move as a key concession that will effectively scrap the contentious so-called Irish Sea border for goods destined to remain within the UK.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the Government would deliver quickly on the commitments made in the deal, with two pieces of legislation set to be fast-tracked through Parliament on Thursday.

The Stormont Assembly could sit again as soon as Saturday.

“This is the right deal for Northern Ireland and the right deal for the Union,” said Mr Heaton-Harris.

“It strengthens and further protects the UK internal market and the Union, both now and in the long term.”

Sir Jeffrey said: “Today’s agreement I believe is a positive and decisive step forward for Northern Ireland.”

The measure to reduce checks is part of a wide-ranging deal agreed between the DUP and the Government that is set to bring about the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland after a two-year hiatus.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said restored powersharing in Northern Ireland offered the prospect of a “brighter future”.

The DUP has agreed to drop its two-year blockade of Stormont in exchange for the Government measures aimed at addressing its concerns about post-Brexit trading arrangements that created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

DUP leader Sir Jeffery Donaldson speaks during a joint press conference with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris at Hillsborough Castle
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaks during a joint press conference with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris at Hillsborough Castle (Niall Carson/PA)

While Sir Jeffrey has secured the backing of party colleagues to accept the deal, there are those within the DUP who remain deeply sceptical of the proposed agreement to restore powersharing.

Speaking in the Commons, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson voiced his concerns as he heavily criticised the Government.

“When the Northern Ireland Assembly sits, ministers and Assembly members will be expected by law to adhere to and implement laws which are made in Brussels, which they had no say over and no ability to amend, and no ability to stop,” he said.

“This is a result of this spineless, weak-kneed, Brexit-betraying Government, refusing to take on the EU and its interference in Northern Ireland.”

Under the deal, the post-Brexit red lane for transporting goods from GB to Northern Ireland and on into the EU single market will remain, but the command paper offers measures aimed at reducing the volume of trade required to use that red-tape heavy route, with a prediction that 80% of goods will now move free of routine checks through the internal market system.

It is understood the EU has been kept up to date with the shape of the Government’s package of measures.

Downing Street has said the deal contains “significant” changes to the Windsor Framework’s “operation”, but is not about altering the “fundamentals” of the framework.

But Sir Jeffrey insisted the deal had resulted in “clear” changes to the Windsor Framework.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin speaks during a visit to the Ulster Museum in Belfast
Tanaiste Micheal Martin speaks during a visit to the Ulster Museum in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

If there are any changes to the framework, they would be examined and decided upon within the existing EU/UK Joint Committee system.

A move already approved by the Joint Committee, and announced on Tuesday, will see Northern Ireland given barrier-free access to internationally sourced agri-food goods that are currently freely available in GB through UK free trade deals with other countries.

Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin suggested Brussels would have a role in approving the moves announced on Wednesday.

“I think the EU Commission will look at this,” he told reporters after meeting political leaders in Belfast.

“I think that’s the whole purpose of the Joint Committee and indeed the various mechanisms that are in the Windsor Framework is to go through issues as they arise.

“But I do not anticipate any particular difficulties in respect of the EU side.”

The command paper said the replacement of the green lane would ensure there will be “no checks when goods move within the UK internal market system save those conducted by UK authorities as part of a risk-based or intelligence-led approach to tackle criminality, abuse of the scheme, smuggling and disease risks”.

The paper adds: “This will ensure the smooth flow of goods that are moving within the UK internal market.”

As well as moves to cut Brexit bureaucracy on Irish Sea trade, the command paper includes a series of measures aimed at providing assurances around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.