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People ‘already beginning to see benefit of DUP deal over trading concerns’

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has hailed a new agreement on the movement of some goods into Northern Ireland as he said people are already beginning to see the benefits of the deal his party has struck with the Government.

Sir Jeffrey also predicted the green lane element of the Windsor Framework “will go” as he expressed hope that the Stormont powersharing institutions can be restored within days.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has said her party is satisfied that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has not been damaged or undermined by the DUP deal over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The end of the two-year Stormont impasse was signalled in the early hours of Tuesday morning when Sir Jeffrey secured the backing of his party executive for Government proposals aimed at addressing his party’s concerns over Brexit’s so-called Irish Sea border.

Stormont Assembly
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris speaks to the media in College Green, Westminster (Victoria Jones/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has said he now believes that “all the conditions are now in place” for Stormont to return.

The Government has said it will publish on Wednesday proposals to “secure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and to strengthen the union”.

The parties eligible to participate in a revived ministerial executive met at Stormont Castle on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the next steps.

As the parties were meeting, the UK Government and EU announced an update to the Windsor Framework – which governs Irish Sea trade.

The new decision allows Northern Ireland to better benefit from a free trade agreement secured by the UK Government covering agri-food foods.

However, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said this was not part of the agreement struck with the DUP.

She added: “This is separate — this is an update on some separate work we have been working on with the European Commission.”

However, Sir Jeffrey said the change was one of the key elements in his negotiations with the Government.

He said: “I welcome the fact that we are now beginning to see the delivery of what was promised with the announcement today between the UK Government and the EU that there is further legal change that will be of real benefit to businesses in Northern Ireland, that ensures that Northern Ireland benefits fully from UK free trade deals.

“These were key elements in our requirements, in our negotiations with the Government.

“Those who said there will be no legal change, who were predicting things would fall short; I simply asked people to wait and see the outcome.

“Wait and see the evidence and judge for yourself what this deal does, what it delivers, the change that it secures. I believe we are now beginning to see on day one, that delivery coming through.”

The DUP leader also predicted that the agreement he had secured with the Government would lead to goods which are destined for Northern Ireland through the green lane element of the Windsor Framework, flowing freely from the rest of the UK.

He said: “On checks, on goods, moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and staying within the UK there will no longer by physical checks, identity checks, save where, as is normal in any part of the UK there is a suspicion of smuggling, of criminal activity; that is the same for every part of the United Kingdom.

“On customs paperwork, customs declarations, supplementary declarations, will be gone and therefore we believe this represents a significant change.

“Some people said you’re going to take the green lane and paint it red, white and blue and put a flag on it. If someone wants to put a flag on it, whatever.

“As far as we are concerned, the green lane will go and be replaced by the UK internal market system that reflects the reality that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, that goods flowing within the United Kingdom, flow freely.

“That was our core key objective and I believe what we have secured represents real change and everybody will be able to see it for themselves.”

Stormont Assembly
(left to right) Sinn Fein representatives MLA Conor Murphy, president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O’Neill, speak to the media in the Great Hall at Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sinn Fein president Mrs McDonald said her party had no concerns over the deal, which she said had been reached after “painstaking” work.

She said: “We have been in close contact with both governments, and indeed with Brussels.

“We are satisfied that no part of the Good Friday Agreement has been undermined or damaged.

“We also know that Brussels, Dublin, all parties are satisfied that what has been agreed stays between the hedges of Brussels and the European market and also the concerns that the DUP expressed.

“All of that has been accommodated and worked on painstakingly.”

The DUP’s return to Stormont is dependent on the UK Government implementing the various legislative assurances and other measures it has offered.

It is understood the Government will introduce two statutory instruments at Westminster to give legislative effect to the commitments it has made on trade and sovereignty.

The return of Stormont will also see the Treasury release a £3.3 billion package to support under-pressure public services in Northern Ireland.

The financial package includes money to settle the demands of striking public sector workers in the region this year.

The DUP has been using a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions for two years in protest at the post-Brexit arrangements that have created trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Speaking at Westminster, Mr Heaton-Harris said he would publish the proposals on Wednesday.

He said: “I believe that all the conditions are now in place for the assembly to return.

“I look forward very much to the restoration of the institutions as soon as possible.

“There was a financial package worth over £3 billion offered to the parties before Christmas.

“This will absolutely be available to an incoming executive.

“The parties entitled to form an executive are meeting today to discuss these matters and I hope we will be able to finalise this deal with those parties as soon as possible and move forward.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak has told Irish premier Leo Varadkar that he was “confident” the latest developments in Northern Ireland “pave the way for the restoration of powersharing” in the region.

Offering a readout of the talks between the two leaders, a No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister spoke to the Taoiseach today to update him on the UK Government’s negotiations with the DUP and Northern Ireland parties, following last night’s positive step from the DUP.”

Stormont Assembly
DUP leader Sir Jeffery Donaldson announced his deal at a 1am press conference in Co Down (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Jeffrey announced his conditional support for a Stormont return at post-1am press conference in Co Down on Tuesday.

That came after he had secured what he said was the “decisive” backing of the 130-strong party executive during a five-hour meeting on Monday night.

He said DUP party officers, a key 12-strong decision-making body, had also “mandated” him to move forward on the basis he was proposing.

During the powersharing impasse, the DUP has used “seven tests” to measure any proposals designed to address its concerns on the trading arrangements.

Sir Jeffrey said the package on the table represented “progress” across all seven tests.

Support for the deal is not unanimous within the DUP and several senior figures remain fiercely opposed to the proposed agreement to restore powersharing.