Northern Ireland’s largest pro-UK party said Tuesday the imminent visit of US President Joe Biden is not a deadline for its judgement on a new post-Brexit trade deal.
On a visit to Washington, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson said it would not be rushed on giving its verdict, which could pave the way for a resumption of devolved governance in Northern Ireland.
The party has been refusing to resume power-sharing with nationalists for a year in protest at the post-Brexit trading terms.
It is hoped the reworked agreement unveiled last month by London and Brussels could shift its stance.
Biden, who trumpets his Irish roots, confirmed Monday he will visit Northern Ireland and neighbouring Ireland next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the US-brokered Good Friday Agreement.
The peace accord brought to an end three decades of violence over British rule in Northern Ireland.
Biden’s much-anticipated visit has led to speculation it could coincide with power-sharing restarting in Belfast.
“Whether the president visits or not, I have no arbitrary deadline here,” Donaldson said of his party’s consideration of the new Brexit pact, known as the Windsor Framework.
“I am not under any pressure in terms of timelines,” he added, in comments reported by UK media. “I want to get this right. However long that takes is how long it will take.”
Separately, Donaldson issued a statement suggesting the DUP was far from poised to give its backing to the framework, which replaces the much-maligned Northern Ireland Protocol.
“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,” he said.
Donaldson added the new pact requires domestic UK legislation, which has not yet been drafted and published.
He noted his party had started discussions with the UK government and would “continue with that engagement to ensure that we get an outcome that works”.
“We want to see a return to the delicate political balance within Northern Ireland where the views of unionists are valued and respected,” Donaldson said.
The framework reduces the influence of EU law in Northern Ireland and creates a new “green lane” for goods coming from Britain but not intended to go on to the EU’s single market via Ireland.
The special arrangements are needed in order to avoid physical border checks between the province, which is part of the UK, and neighbouring Ireland, which remains in the EU.
The border was a flashpoint during the so-called Troubles.
Responding to Donaldson, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said “we stand ready to discuss any further questions” from the DUP.
“But ultimately the prime minister believes this is the best deal that is available for Northern Ireland,” he added.