Politics Sunak pledges to lower trade barriers with Northern Ireland...

Sunak pledges to lower trade barriers with Northern Ireland in move to restore Stormont

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Rishi Sunak has pledged to lower trade barriers with Northern Ireland if the Democratic Unionist Party ends its two-year boycott of Stormont.

The Prime Minister told MPs he is ready to swiftly pass new laws that would ease customs checks on goods travelling across the Irish Sea.

He made the commitment to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, after months of talks about restoring the collapsed Belfast government. The DUP walked out of Stormont in Feb 2022 in protest at the Brexit deal that imposed trade barriers between Great Britain and the province.

Britain and the EU then held talks about improving the original Northern Ireland Protocol and signed the replacement Windsor Framework this spring. But despite the agreement removing some border checks, the DUP said it did not go far enough and still left Ulster cut off from the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland effectively stayed in the Single Market when the rest of Great Britain left, in order to prevent the need for a land border with the Republic. But that meant border checks on goods had to be moved into the Irish Sea instead.

Equal status in Union

Sir Jeffrey has been pressing Downing Street to write new provisions into law that would guarantee the province’s equal status in the Union.

Mr Sunak told MPs he will overhaul the Internal Market Act “to protect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK”, adding: “We can do this at pace.” But he insisted that the promise was conditional on the DUP ending its almost two-year walkout from power sharing and returning to Stormont.

Sir Jeffrey highlighted “Unionist concerns about the need to remove the Irish Sea border created by the protocol and that disrupts the UK’s internal market”.

He asked Mr Sunak to “bring forward legislation to… both guarantee and future-proof Northern Ireland’s unfettered access to the UK’s internal market in all scenarios”.

The Prime Minister replied: “I recognise the need to do more in this area and I can confirm to him the Government does stand ready to legislate to protect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK and the UK internal market alongside an agreement to restore the Executive.

“We can do this at pace. Our NHS, our police officers, and the most vulnerable in Northern Ireland need devolved Government urgently and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to work day and night to achieve that.”

Northern Ireland’s Government is run by a power-sharing executive made up of the biggest Unionist and Nationalist parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.

£2.5bn spending settlement

Since the DUP withdrew its support the province has been governed by a caretaker administration, which has no powers to introduce new policies.

Any deal to end the party’s boycott is likely to all but eliminate checks on goods that travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland through a “green lane”

It is also expected to set up an East-West Council of politicians from Westminster and Belfast to maintain close ties within the Union. And ministers have set out plans to hand the province a huge £2.5 billion spending settlement to boost the state of its public services when power-sharing returns.

Sir Jeffrey has told The Telegraph that any changes to legislation must amount to a scrapping of the Irish Sea border and not just be “declaratory”.

He said his party wants any deal to end the need for customs declarations, which are now applied to all goods travelling from Great Britain to the province.

New arrangements should also reduce the need for businesses to share their shipments data with Brussels to the “absolute minimum”, he added.

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