Blog: DUP unlikely to reach decision on revised Northern Ireland deal until April – The Guardian

The Democratic Unionist party is unlikely to make a decision on whether to support Rishi Sunak’s deal with the EU to revise the Northern Ireland protocol until April.

The party has just launched a consultation process with an eight-person panel including former party leaders, Lady Arlene Foster and Peter Robinson.

They have been given until the end of March to report back to the party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, fuelling speculation that even were they to support Sunak they would not return to Stormont before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April.

The delay raises fresh doubts that US president Joe Biden will travel to Ireland to coincide with the peace pact anniversary. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are both expected to visit for an event after Easter centring on the landmark deal.

“History teaches us that it is always better to get the right outcome for Northern Ireland rather than a rushed one,” said Donaldson.

Sources say Downing Street is “relaxed” about the elastic timetable and wants to give the DUP the time it needs to arrive at a conclusion rather than pressure it to make a decision in the heat of the moment.

The DUP’s advisory panel have been asked to take soundings from a broad section of the unionist and loyalist community, the business sector, and civic society.

In a statement Donaldson said their work would take place alongside continued political engagements over 24 documents released last week to accompany the Windsor framework.

The DUP’s announcement that it was launching a consultation process came just hours after Bertie Ahern, one of the architects of the historic Northern Ireland peace deal, urged politicians “not to fall into the trap” of starting a debate about reforms to the Good Friday Agreement.

The former taoiseach said it would be a “fatal mistake” to do so before the Democratic Unionist party returned to the Stormont Assembly it has been blocking for a year in protest against the Brexit trading arrangements agreed by the UK.

He was speaking at a session of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, sitting in Stormont for one day, just weeks after former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said the historic peace pact was “fraying, if not outright broken”. The Alliance party has also called for changes to the GFA. Now the third largest in the assembly, they say the formula for power-sharing is borne of a different era and allows Sinn Féin or the DUP to hold “the assembly and the executive to ransom”.

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