Blog: Today, 24 short words aim to end seven-year Brexit dispute over the North – but it seems no-one told the DUP –

With just 24 clipped words, EU leaders will today finally pronounce that the seven-year Brexit dispute on the North’s special trade status is definitively over.

ormal summit conclusions to be signed off this afternoon put Brexit requiem in at point number 27, one above the final pointer, which is a pious endorsement of United Nations’ calls for clean water.

“The European Council welcomes the agreement on the Windsor Framework and looks forward to the swift implementation of all agreed solutions in good faith.”

For Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who spent many long nights in Brexit crisis talks at this EU summit centre in Brussels, it was a mix of good and less-than-good news. He warmly welcomed Wednesday night’s decisive London parliament vote – which did the same thing as the EU declaration.

“I’m confident that the UK government and the European Union will implement the Windsor Framework now and that is going to be of benefit to the people of Northern Ireland,” Mr Varadkar told reporters in Brussels.

Less encouraging was the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) stance.

That, for the Taoiseach, was not good news for the people in the North who need their politicians at work puzzling solutions to homelessness, cost-of-living, a health service under pressure, and all the other daily realities.

“I’m disappointed to hear the DUP are not going back to the Stormont assembly and executive. I think they should,” the Taoiseach said. He insisted he wanted to avoid antagonising anyone, and the Government would continue to work with the North’s five main political parties and London to see what progress could be made.

But if Stormont remains atrophied – what happens next? Will there be direct rule from London as there was over three decades? What about Dublin taking a more strident role in affairs north of the border under so-called joint authority?

Time and circumstances did not allow further discussion of Dublin “taking a hand” in the North’s affairs

Mr Varadkar was definitive in dismissing any question of direct rule from London as happened from 1972 until 1998. “I think it’s premature to be talking about direct rule.

But it is consistently the position of the Irish Government that direct rule is not provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and we couldn’t support going back to that,” the Taoiseach said.

Time and circumstances did not allow further discussion of Dublin “taking a hand” in the North’s affairs and the Taoiseach was keen not to further irk DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson.

However, last October before the transfer of roles, Micheál Martin as Taoiseach was more strident on this matter.

As yet another deadline on re-establishing power-sharing loomed, Mr Martin told the Dáil that the Irish Government will maximise its role in running the
North if the DUP continues to block the restoration of the Belfast power-sharing structures.

These issues will take time to play out, and there is a persistent flickering hope that Mr Donaldson and his DUP colleagues may be saying “not yet” rather than delivering a definitive permanent “No.”

Justifying his party’s vote against the Windsor Framework on Wednesday, Mr Donaldson yesterday dubbed it a “sticking plaster.” But notably he has also said he is looking forward to negotiating with prime minister Rishi Sunak and foreign minister, James Cleverly.

“We’re looking primarily to the prime minister and to the government of the United Kingdom,” the DUP leader said.

But he and his party are occupying an increasingly lonely place as there were just 22 Eurosceptic Tory rebels on their side in Wednesday’s landslide vote in Westminster.

EU chief Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, is due in London tomorrow to formally sign the Windsor Framework documents with Mr Cleverly.

This one is over – somebody should tell the DUP.

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