The DUP leader has warned the Prime Minister must not serve up a “half-baked” deal to resolve the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned against any interim deal with the EU as he urged Rishi Sunak to “do it and do it right”.
Sir Jeffrey also played down speculation that London and Brussels were close to a deal to end the standoff over contentious post-Brexit trade deals that have created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the Kingdom united
He said he was being advised by cabinet ministers that there was still “a lot of gulf” between the two sides.
The UK and the EU agreed the protocol in 2019 as a way to unlock the deadlock to reach a Brexit withdrawal deal.
Designed as a means of keeping the Irish land border free, it moved regulatory and customs controls on goods to the Irish Sea, creating economic barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Many unionists in Northern Ireland are vehemently opposed to the deals which they say have weakened the region’s place within the union.
The DUP is currently blocking power-sharing from working in Stormont and has made it clear that it will not allow devolution to return unless major changes are made to the protocol.
Sir Jeffrey told GB News the pressure was on the UK government to get the “right deal”.
“I am very clear that we have to get this right and so I would say to the UK Government and the Prime Minister, don’t look for a half-baked deal, don’t look for any kind of interim deal – get it done and get it done correctly,” he said.
“Because if we want to restore political institutions in Northern Ireland, if we want to move Northern Ireland forward with cross-community support, we need a deal that unionists and nationalists can support.
“That means dealing with the very difficult and challenging issues. That’s what leadership is all about. So I think the pressure is on the UK government to get a deal, but I want them to get the right deal for Ireland from North and for the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Sir Jeffrey indicated he did not believe a deal was imminent, but said progress could be made in the coming weeks.
“I think there’s been a lot of talk about improvements in mood music, but any of the conversations I’ve had with senior government ministers suggest there’s still a big gap to close on some very important issues related to the Protocol d ‘Northern Ireland. before a deal can be reached,’ he said.
“So I’m not so sure that we’re on the cusp of a deal, but it could be that in the next two or three weeks there will be progress on these big issues, but that remains to be seen.”
The DUP leader said they had to end deals for the EU to set trade laws for Northern Ireland.
“Underpinning all of this is the question of who regulates the way we trade in the UK,” he said.
“Who is responsible for making the laws that govern a wide range of legislation topics. We are very clear that when it comes to trading within the UK, it is the Parliament and the UK Government that must regulate how we trade, and then of course we are happy to see how we protect the integrity of the EU single market. with practical measures that do not violate the integrity of the United Kingdom”.
Both London and Brussels are keen to secure a breakthrough that would facilitate a return to devolved institutions before the anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast peace agreement on April 25.
The Government has introduced a bill, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would allow ministers to unilaterally scrap the protocol without the consent of Brussels.
However, Sunak has stalled the bill’s progress in Parliament while efforts to reach a negotiated deal with the EU have intensified.
Sir Jeffrey said it was “unfortunate” that the bill was not currently progressing.
“I certainly think the protocol bill gives the government significant leverage, as indeed the anniversary of the Belfast agreement is coming up,” he said.
“Good Friday 1998, 25 years later and here we are, none of the political institutions established under that agreement are functioning properly, and this is because of the damage done to the economy of Northern Ireland and the political stability in Northern Ireland, without a single unionist, supporting the protocol chosen in the Assembly at last year’s election in May.
“At the moment there is no sustainable basis for the cross-Community support needed to restore and restore these political institutions.
“So the government has that influence, but I think it’s unfortunate that they haven’t been able to go ahead with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
“I have told the Prime Minister that if no deal is reached with the EU, then he must go ahead (with the bill) and the Government must fulfill the commitments it has made to the people of Northern Ireland to solve this problem.”