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Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson Alamy Stock Photo
it's a deal

UK government to replace 'green lane' on goods travelling to NI under new Stormont deal

The DUP has been using a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions for almost two years.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Jan

THE UK GOVERNMENT has published its deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which will see the return of the Stormont Assembly.

Among the commitments is the replacement of the ‘green lane’, which currently requires a percentage of goods to be checked, with a new “UK internal market system” that will govern the movement of goods that are expected to remain within the UK.

The paper, titled Safeguarding the Union, also includes a series of measures aimed at providing assurances around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

Legislation will be tabled in the House of Commons with the purpose of “affirming Northern Ireland’s constitutional status underpinned by, among other provisions, the Acts of Union”.

The UK government has also pledged to amend domestic law to ensure that new EU laws will not automatically apply in Northern Ireland, and must first be subject to democratic oversight by the Stormont Assembly.

The oversight procedures already outlined in the Windsor Framework include the so-called ‘Stormont brake’ mechanism, which enables 30 or more MLAs to flag a concern about a new EU law planned to come into effect in Northern Ireland.

The UK government is obliged to assess whether those concerns meet a threshold that could then result in the UK vetoing the application of the law in the region.

“The UK government is sovereign. The legislation that will be introduced in Parliament tomorrow on our constitutional status as part of the UK will reaffirm the sovereignty of Parliament over Northern Ireland. That is very important,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said. 

In respect of further UK divergence from EU standards, there is also a legal requirement that new Westminster legislation is assessed as to whether it “impacts on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain”.

If it does, the relevant minister will be required by law to make a statement on the operation of Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market.

A requirement that saw certain goods sold in Northern Ireland to display a label stating “not for sale in the EU” will now to extend to cover the whole of the UK.

Legislation promised in the deal is set to be fast-tracked through Parliament tomorrow to enable the swift restoration of the institutions at Stormont.

Stormont restoration

For two years, the DUP used a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions in protest at the post-Brexit arrangements that created trade barriers.

However, Donaldson announced earlier this week that his party was prepared to return to Stormont, dependent on the UK government implementing the various legislative assurances and other measures it has offered.

This is expected to lead to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland within days and will see Michelle O’Neill become the region’s first ever nationalist first minister.

The return of Stormont will also see the Treasury release a £3.3 billion package (€3.85 billion) 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.

Speaking today after meeting with Stormont parties in Belfast, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that now is a moment “we need to grasp” for the benefit of people in Northern Ireland and across the island. 

He said the Irish government will work “closely” with the Executive and that he looks forward to an early convening of the North-South ministerial conference. 

The Tánaiste said he “does not anticipate any difficulties” from the EU in relation to the new deal. 

He added that O’Neill’s becoming Northern Ireland first nationalist First Minister is a “very big moment” for her. 

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said he also had a “good meeting” with Martin in Belfast. 

Beattie said he told Martin about how the Ulster Unionists have been “kept out” of discussions in relation to the agreement between the DUP and the British government.

Sinn Féin has focused on the imminent return of the Stormont Assembly, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald stating that Irish unity is now within “touching distance” as she hailed the significance of her party assuming the role of Stormont first minister for the first time.

McDonald said the expected appointment of O’Neill into the job in the coming days would be a moment of “very great significance”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the restoration of Stormont must be a new start for everyone who lives in Northern Ireland. 

He said the “politics of the past, the obsession with division and deadlock, must be washed away”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons today that the restored powersharing offers the prospect of a “brighter future”. 

Donaldson announced his support for a Stormont return after receiving 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.

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

DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused the UK Government of being spineless, weak-kneed and “Brexit-betraying” during a speech in the House of Commons today, claiming that Stormont would have to adhere to laws made by the EU in Brussels.

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

“Is Northern Ireland going to find it’s got the ability to stay tied to the United Kingdom, or will the Government proceed happily to change laws here regardless of the impact it has on Northern Ireland?”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris responded that the agreed measures would not change what had been agreed in the Brexit deal or through the Windsor framework.

Includes reporting by Hayley Halpin, David MacRedmond and the Press Association.

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