There is an understandable focus on the Democratic Unionist Party and our detailed assessment of the agreement reached between the UK Government and the European Union.
Over a year ago we withdrew our First Minister from the then Northern Ireland Executive to send the clearest possible signal that we did not support the Northern Ireland Protocol and that we were not, and are not, prepared to implement that which is disastrous for Northern Ireland. Our judgement and our principled position in opposing the Protocol in Parliament and at Stormont has been vindicated. It is now widely recognised that the Protocol does not work and that it could not have been made to work.
When others said there would be no re-negotiation and no change our determination has proved what can be achieved.
The Protocol upset the delicate political balance in Northern Ireland and was not supported by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland.
The Windsor Framework while undoubtedly representing significant progress across a number of areas does not deal with some of the fundamental problems at the heart of our current difficulties.
It is my current assessment that there remains key areas of concern which require further clarification, re-working and change as well as seeing further legal text.
There are a number of elements requiring UK Government domestic legislation, the drafts of which have not yet been published.
Amongst a series of issues some of our key areas of concern presently are:
The fact that the proposals in the Windsor Framework do not in themselves adequately remedy the harm done by the Protocol to Article 6 of the Acts of Union and our ability to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.
The UK Government gave a commitment in the New Decade New Approach Agreement to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market and this remains unfinished business. Notwithstanding the proposal to remove certain barriers to trade between GB and NI under the Framework we will want to see further work in this area, consistent with the NDNA commitment that protects our place in the internal market and our economic rights under Article 6 of the Acts of Union.
The implications of the continued application of EU law without consent in Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework. For example, for those Northern Ireland businesses that do not trade with the EU and only trade within the United Kingdom why should they be required to follow EU laws? This area will need further exploration and clarity from the Government.
The Green Lane, operating within the United Kingdom, dealing with goods from registered UK businesses that are sold and destined for final consumers in Northern Ireland. Greater clarity is needed on how this will operate in practice and that arrangements ensure the free flow of goods within the United Kingdom Internal Market.
The proposed remedy for the democratic deficit (for amended and new EU laws) in Northern Ireland – the Stormont Brake. For these proposals to truly remedy this aspect of the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland (namely amended and new EU law) we must be clear that any mechanism exercised by 30 MLAs is effective in law and will allow locally elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to determine whether amended or new laws are implemented. We cannot have a situation where Northern Ireland diverges from its most important market that being the rest of the United Kingdom.
We have already commenced discussions with the UK Government on a range of issues where we require further clarity and where we believe more work will be needed. We will continue with that engagement to ensure that we get an outcome that works and which can be considered against our seven tests.
We want to see a return to the delicate political balance within Northern Ireland where the views of unionists are valued and respected. As Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party we have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring we get the right outcome that respects Northern Ireland’s place in the Union for the long-term.