DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson pictured yesterday Alamy Stock Photo

DUP talking to UK's Labour Party but pressing for Stormont return deal with Conservatives

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he does not want to wait another year for a deal that will allow his party to return to Stormont.

THE DUP IS talking to the UK’s Labour Party, but leader Jeffrey Donaldson insists he is focussed on securing a deal with the current Conservative Government to allow his party to return to the Stormont Assembly.

The lead unionist party in Northern Ireland is refusing to participate in the Assembly until its concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements are addressed by the UK Government.

Donaldson said the Northern Ireland Protocol must be replaced with arrangements that “respect and protect” the region’s ability to trade within the UK and its internal market.

Talks have been ongoing between the DUP and the UK Government for months but speculation has heightened in recent weeks that they may be close to concluding.

Ahead of the general election, expected to take place next year, Donaldson confirmed his party has had “a number of conversations” with both Labour leader Keir Starmer and UK shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn.

london-uk-10-october-2023-labour-party-leader-keir-starmer-speaks-during-the-labour-party-conference-in-liverpool-credit-garyrobertsphotographyalamy-live-news-credit-garyrobertsphotographyalam Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on 10 Oct, 2023 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He described them as “interesting discussions”, adding: “Labour does have a plan in terms of how it will deal with some of the issues that confront us, including on EU regulations and veterinary agreements”.

“If Labour were to proceed on the basis they have spoken of, for the United Kingdom as a whole, that would help to ease many of the difficulties that we have in moving goods, particularly from Great Britain to Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC today.

But he insisted he is working to get an agreement now with the current Government.

“I don’t want to wait another year. If we can get this right now, if we can have measures that respect our economic rights as part of the United Kingdom, that restore our place in the UK internal market, why wouldn’t I take that now?” he said.

He added: “Realistically, if we reach the end of the year, we’re into the trajectory for a general election and I think it is likely in those circumstances Government are going to focus elsewhere. That’s why I’m keen to make every effort that we can to get agreement.

“I don’t know if that’s going to be possible but I will continue working at this to try and get that solution.”

tulips-outside-parliament-buildings-stormont-belfast-home-of-the-northern-ireland-assembly File image of tulips outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking before his party’s conference this weekend, Donaldson said he will update members on the talks with the British Government.

Asked if they are close to a deal, Donaldson declined to speculate on a timeline, saying: “Nothing is certain when it comes to negotiations of this nature but we have made progress.”

The DUP withdrew first minister Paul Givan from the Stormont executive in February 2022 in protest against the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Powersharing is unable to function in Northern Ireland without the participation of the largest unionist party.

The UK and EU agreed the framework earlier this year in a bid to address unionist concerns about the protocol, but the DUP has indicated it will not return to the Stormont Assembly until the Government provides further assurances over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

One of the main parts of the framework – the green/red lane system for the movement of goods – became operational at Northern Ireland ports earlier this month.

In an interview with the PA news agency this week, Donaldson said a lot depends on the progress made to close the gaps that remain but he would like to see an outcome within the next few weeks.

Press Association
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