The EU MUST drop the claim that the Northern Ireland Protocol is designed to protect the peace process, the DUP leader has said.
Jeffrey Donaldson said trade unionism was “rapidly losing faith” that a negotiated solution to protocol issues could be achieved through ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK.
The DUP leader, who has repeatedly called on the UK government to suspend trade deals by triggering the Article 16 mechanism, was speaking after a virtual meeting with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic.
Earlier this month, Donaldson removed DUP Premier Paul Givan from the Stormont executive in protest at the protocol – a move that removed the power-sharing administration’s ability to make decisions important.
Sefcovic held talks with key Stormont executives ahead of next week’s meeting of the joint EU/UK committee on the implementation of the protocol.
Four of Stormont’s five main parties also held talks with Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney today. Donaldson was unable to meet Coveney in person in Belfast due to travel logistics, but is expected to speak to him in the coming days.
Donaldson, who last year barred his ministers from cross-border political meetings as part of his campaign against the protocol, said it was ‘the greatest threat to progress and prosperity in Ireland of the North of our generation”.
He added: “The EU can no longer claim that the protocol was intended to protect peace.
“The Irish Sea border does not have the support of a single elected trade unionist. It is divisive and undemocratic. This destroys the principle of cross-community consent. The absence of a functioning executive or North-South structures demonstrates that protocol is an unparalleled danger to fairness and progress in Northern Ireland.
“Trade unionism is rapidly losing faith that a negotiated solution is possible.
“It is time the government took action to restore fairness and restore Northern Ireland’s access to the UK internal market. This is the only way to build a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill, who was automatically removed as Deputy Prime Minister when Mr Givan stepped down, spoke to Mr Sefcovic and Mr Coveney on Thursday.
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She said the majority of Northern Irish did not support triggering Article 16.
“There is no desire here from the wider society around triggering Article 16,” she said.
O’Neill said his engagements with Coveney and Sefcovic were “very timely” ahead of next week’s joint committee meeting.
“We hope that there are solutions to be found, if so, it remains to be seen,” she said.