DUP bid to sort protocol issues will not be derailed by Tory ‘psychodrama’

Deputy leader Gavin Robinson said the party was not interested in a ‘sticking plaster’ solution to its concerns over post-Brexit trade.

The DUP will not allow Westminster psychodrama to distract from work to secure further Government assurances on post-Brexit trade, its deputy leader has said.

Gavin Robinson insisted the fall-out from the resignation of Boris Johnson and other Tory MPs was a matter for the Conservative Party as he warned the turmoil should not be a reason to delay delivery of legislation addressing DUP concerns over sovereignty and trade friction.

The DUP has been blocking devolution at Stormont for over a year in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol – a set of trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

The party says the recent UK/EU deal to cut some of the red tape on Irish Sea trade – the Windsor Framework – does not go far enough.

General views of Belfast Harbour
The Northern Ireland Protocol requires checks on goods arriving from Great Britain into the region (Liam McBurney/PA)

It has made clear it will not countenance a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

Earlier this week, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson suggested his party’s efforts to secure those assurances would reach an important stage in the coming weeks.

That was before the three quickfire MP resignations, including that of Mr Johnson, left Prime Minister Rishi Sunak facing by-election battles on multiple fronts and intensifying opposition calls for a snap general election.

Mr Robinson, who was elected DUP deputy leader on Friday, said events at Parliament could not be allowed to derail efforts to resolve the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse.

“Our job has to be to ensure that in resolving the issues that have dogged the return to devolution in Northern Ireland, that we maintain the Prime Minister’s focus and that we get the job done,” he told BBC NI’s Sunday Politics programme.

Mr Robinson added: “Our focus is on finishing that job, not getting detracted or delayed by psychodrama in Westminster, but making sure that focus is there on the important benefits that will be associated with getting the job done and getting this place (Stormont) working successfully.”

Asked if the DUP regretted trusting Mr Johnson on Brexit, given he agreed the contentious protocol arrangements, Mr Robinson replied: “We operate on the basis of loving many and trusting few, and always paddling our own canoe, we stand up for people in Northern Ireland, we want to see Northern Ireland succeed.

“We do that by building relationships across the political spectrum in Westminster and that’s the job we will continue to do. We have been engaged with government, we’ve engaged with previous governments, and we will continue to engage until we get an answer to the friction of trade issues, the democratic deficit issues and the constitutional harm issues that have plagued and bedevilled the return to devolution in Northern Ireland.

“It’s important work and we’re not going to be distracted by personalities in this – we need to get on and do the job.”

He added: “We won’t be derailed from our focus and our job. The job before us now is to make sure that that determination that we show in Westminster is responded to positively, is reciprocated, that we all recognise the benefits that devolution brings to Northern Ireland and that a return on a stable and a sustainable basis would have for the people of Northern Ireland.

“So, we have clearly, consistently and continually outlined the problems, we’ve recognised the progress and we know that we have a job still to do. That’s what we’ll do and we’ll ensure that we maintain their focus as we chart this course.”

Senior civil servants are currently running public services in Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.

They have estimated that Stormont departments need hundreds of millions of pounds in extra funding to maintain public services at their current level this year.

Hundreds of millions more would be needed to settle a series of public-sector pay disputes in the region.

Parties are set to ask the Treasury for a £1 billion-plus package in financial support to accompany any return to powersharing.

Mr Robinson said there was also a need to reform the formula used for distributing Treasury funds to Northern Ireland.

He declined to put a timeline on any DUP return to Stormont.

“It will happen when the job is done,” he said.

“We’re not looking for short-term sticking plasters. We’re not looking for an obvious and immediate return without resolving the issues that have plagued devolution in the past and if so would be set to continue to plague devolution in the future.

“I have been highlighting for months and months about the difficulties in the funding arrangements for Northern Ireland about how unsustainable that is.

“I’ve heard people in a very casual and cavalier way suggest that if we had an additional billion pounds all would be well, and that is so far from the truth that if you want to see devolution returned on a positive and sustainable basis then the funding arrangements for Northern Ireland are going to have to be resolved as well.”

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