From Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) <[email protected]>
Subject The DUP is shaping the debate
Date January 13, 2024 7:59 AM
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Good morning John

On the 1st July 2021, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson put the Government on notice that the NI Protocol was not going to be tolerated by unionism. In his first speech as Party Leader, that morning Sir Jeffrey outlined our short-term and long-term objectives.

The first objective was “to remove the Irish Sea border’s pernicious impact on our trading and constitutional position.”

His second objective was “to make sure that devolution is placed on a stable and sustainable basis.”

Over the last 926 days, those objectives have guided the Democratic Unionist Party.

As the largest party within unionism, we could not allow the NI Protocol to jeopardise Northern Ireland’s relationship within the United Kingdom’s Internal Market.

We knew the NI Protocol was undermining the foundations of devolution and unless there was change, the two could not co-exist.

It has always been a matter of regret for us that the Government in London, the EU in Brussels, and the other parties in Northern Ireland did not heed our warnings about how the Protocol was endangering devolution. Those who lauded ‘powersharing’ seemed to revel in the fact that every unionist MLA opposed the Protocol.

Had our warnings been heeded and a fair deal delivered, there would have been no need to collapse devolution.

The Alliance Party foolishly lined up with nationalists and Brussels, not to raise an alarm that the delicate balance of powersharing had tilted too far away from unionists, but to call for the ‘rigorous implementation’ of the Protocol.

With no serious efforts to address our concerns, in February 2022 we withdrew the First Minister from the Executive.

To give space for talks, however and manage decision-making, we left our other Executive Ministers in place.

Our objective from day one has not been to get rid of devolution but rather to get a fair deal which unionists as well as nationalists can support. A deal that underpins the foundations of our devolved government rather than undermining them.

There will be differing emphasis across unionism, but my core belief has always been that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom is best protected by having a properly functioning devolved government.

That’s why we are focused on restoring and future-proofing in law our Article 6 rights under the Acts of Union, thus ensuring our ability to trade freely within the UK Internal Market, and securing further measures that will strengthen Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.

By getting back to a place where goods moving from GB to NI flow unimpeded through the UK Internal Market system, unionists will be able to see that their concerns are being addressed. It was not right that within the UK, businesses and traders who posed no risk of criminality, smuggling or disease risk had their goods subject to inspections.

These negotiations are detailed and painstaking. Alongside them we have grown accustomed to a soundtrack of commentators and misinformed media telling us that the “negotiations are over” and will “wrap up” within days.

One thing I have learned about Northern Ireland politics, no negotiation is over until all sides agree it is over. People can walk out of negotiations, but one day they will have to walk back in or else no progress will be made.

Whether in Brussels, London, Dublin or Washington, there has been a realisation that the DUP mean business and there will be no powersharing without unionism.

We have only been able to shape this debate however because of the democratic mandates given to us by unionist voters in the last two Northern Ireland-wide elections.

As we face into a week of strike action, just as with the Protocol, it is the DUP who has shaped the debate on securing sustainable finances for Northern Ireland. Philip Hammond was the Chancellor when the DUP first challenged the Treasury about underfunding Northern Ireland.

It would be an outrageously cruel act of political blackmail for the Government to accept they have underfunded Northern Ireland yet not release that money because they want to leverage it against the DUP. Such an approach, will not work.

Those working in our hospitals, schools and others delivering vital public services deserve immediate fair pay. The Government’s attempt to use fair wages for public sector workers as leverage has backfired. The Secretary of State should ensure public servants fair pay is funded.

On Monday we will again meet with the Secretary of State.

We want devolution re-established but the delicate balances will have to be restored, and our rights respected if powersharing is to work.

We know the path ahead. We have had clear objectives right from July 2021. Those objectives, endorsed in two elections, will guide us in the weeks ahead and if we make the right choice, we will secure the Union for generations to come.

Thank you,

Gavin Robinson MP
DUP Deputy Leader
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