Blog: Can DUP be brought in from the cold to end Northern Ireland protocol row? – The Guardian

Bertie Ahern, co-architect of the Good Friday agreement, has said a deal to end the row over the Northern Ireland protocol is “not rocket science”, but compromise is needed. But can the Democratic Unionist party, which has laid down seven strict conditions for a deal, be brought in from the cold?

Is the current state of affairs enough to get the DUP onboard?

The short answer is no. They have now formed a strategic alliance with the European Research Group of MPs to oppose any deal that forces Northern Ireland to observe EU rules on trade.

On Sunday, the DUP MP Sammy Wilson and the MP and European Research Group deputy leader, David Jones, cast doubt on the prospect of any imminent settlement with a joint article in the Sunday Telegraph warning that any fudge that continued what they described as Northern Ireland’s “semi-colonial status” would be unacceptable.

What do they want?

Last July the DUP laid down the seven tests the EU and UK must pass before it would end its boycott of Stormont.

They are demanding article 6 of the Act of Union is upheld, which means treating Northern Ireland the same as Scotland, England and Wales.

The other six tests require any deal to ensure:

  • Northern Irish customers are not disadvantaged by the protocol and forced to go to non-Great Britain suppliers for goods otherwise available in the UK.

  • There is no “border in the Irish Sea”.

  • NI has “a say in making the laws which govern them”.

  • “No checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to GB or GB to NI and remaining in NI”.

  • No new regulatory borders/laws develop between NI and the rest of the UK.

  • The consent principle in the Good Friday agreement is upheld.

Can they be met?

Unlikely, Ahern told MPs. The seven tests have to be addressed but some may be impossible to surmount. He called for compromise all round.

What is the biggest challenge for the DUP among those tests?

The application of EU trade rules in Northern Ireland. This concept is the fundamental basis of the protocol, enabling no return of the checks on the border with the Republic of Ireland.

Jones has pointed out that since Brexit, 400 pieces of EU legislation that do not apply in GB apply there because of the protocol.

Why is that so important?

They see it as a threat to their constitutional position as a full part of the union of the United Kingdom and have vowed not to return to Stormont until the regulatory divergence is eliminated.

Any deal that did not result in the DUP returning to Stormont would be “an exercise in futility”, said Jones.

“There would be no purpose because you would still be left in a position whereby you were in breach of the Good Friday agreement, which ultimately would have very negative consequences,” he said on Monday.

But what about the lovebombing of the DUP?

The current taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said he regrets that the Northern Ireland protocol he agreed with Boris Johnson to end a Brexit impasse was signed without the agreement of unionists and nationalists.

Jones says Varadkar’s expression of regret reflects the view of the ERG and the DUP that the provisions of the Good Friday agreement which require political agreements to have consent from both communities has been breached.

“It seems to me that the next step Varadkar should take is to press the European Union to do something to put that right,” he said.

Can Rishi Sunak do a deal without the DUP and the ERG?

Yes, Keir Starmer has said he will give him political cover if a deal is in the national interest. But it would be unwise, risking further instability and the continued absence of the devolved government. “If this goes into a drift … where people didn’t really care if you had elected institutions … that worries me,” said Ahern.

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