Deal can revive Stormont

Posted By: February 28, 2023


Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus



Deal can revive Stormont

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Tuesday, February 28, 2023

AFTER all the wrangling, a new deal has entered the political lexicon as the UK government and EU have finally reached agreement on the vexed issue of the NI Protocol.

The Windsor Framework could yet founder on the rocks of Unionist intransigence but significantly, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson did not sink the deal at the first opportunity. Instead, he has signaled that the DUP will take its time to “consider very carefully” what the legal text says.

Neither prime minister Rishi Sunak, who hailed it as a “decisive breakthrough”, nor European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who declared “the result is extraordinary”, were guilty of underselling their agreement.

Mr.Sunak said the Windsor Framework addressed failings in the NI Protocol in three key areas.

First, it would allow the “smooth flow of trade within the UK,” by bringing in a system of green and red lanes. Goods in the green lane will move from Britain to Northern Ireland without being subject to customs checks and the various certificates and paperwork required at present. This, he promised, would “end any sense of a border in the Irish Sea” – a key unionist demand.

Second, there was a “landmark settlement” on medicines approved for use in the UK being able to enter Northern Ireland without the EU also having to approve them. UK VAT changes in areas such as alcohol duty and solar panels can now apply in the north.

Third, Stormont will be able to have a say in which EU laws apply to Northern Ireland. A so-called ‘Stormont brake’ measure would allow the Assembly to object to new EU rules.

This would be “pulled” through a petition of concern – itself a controversial area of Stormont procedure. If the Assembly then, voting on a cross-community basis, backs the pulling of the ‘brake’, the British government can tell the EU it is vetoing the proposed law change.

There is no role for the European Court of Justice in this carefully constructed procedure.

Mr. Sunak appears to have done enough to see off the would-be rebels in the Conservative party.

A tougher test awaits Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. Already figures in his own party such as Ian Paisley have said the Windsor Framework “does not cut the mustard”, while fringe unionist and loyalist elements can be expected to rail against the deal.

He must show the political and moral courage needed to support a deal that should revive power-sharing. It would be folly not to.