Any deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol that does not repair the “constitutional damage” it has caused will fail to convince the DUP to return to powersharing, a senior party figure has warned.
MP Sammy Wilson said the fundamental issue that needed confronting was the “democratic deficit” created by Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules over which local politicians had no influence on.
His comments come amid intensifying speculation that the EU and UK are set to unveil a deal aimed at breaking the impasse over the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The DUP is blocking the operation of the powersharing institutions in Belfast in protest at the protocol and has made clear it will not return to devolution until major changes are delivered.
It has set seven tests by which it will judge any deal struck by London and Brussels.
“There is much speculation about the deal which the PM (Rishi Sunak) is concluding with the EU, with the accompanying spin that it meets the DUPs seven tests,” said Mr Wilson.
“The DUP have not seen any details regarding the deal but the DUP will be the final arbiters as to whether or not it meets our seven tests. Of course, it must also meet the Government’s own tests and promises made in the NI Protocol Bill (draft legislation that would empower UK ministers to unilaterally override the protocol).
“The fundamental issue to be dealt with is the democratic deficit and the constitutional damage done by the imposition of EU law. If this is not dealt with then the deal will fall short of what is required to restore the political institutions.”
The latest of a series of bids to resurrect the Assembly was again blocked by the DUP on Tuesday.
The recalled sitting was initiated by Sinn Fein in an effort to pass stalled organ donation laws for Northern Ireland.
The DUP branded the move a stunt and insisted the law could be passed by the UK government at Westminster instead.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill, who would be in line to be Stormont first minister if devolution returned, said the DUP needed to stop “holding the public to ransom”.
“There’s certainly a lot of increased speculation around the proposed deal,” she told reporters in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.
“I hope that it is the case that both sides arrive at an agreed way forward and I hope that that’s done in a matter of days. That remains to be seen if that’s going to be the case, but certainly, things seem to be pointing in that direction.
“Now that in itself is only the first stage because that would be a deal between the EU and the British government and what we need to see within that deal is the framework of the protocol, everything needs to be within the framework of that protocol, but if there are ways to smooth things out, then let’s get on with it and do it, but both sides have to agree.
“That will provide certainty and stability and that’s what I hope we can achieve.
“And then, after that, it’s over to the DUP, because they’re continuing to hold the public to ransom, they’re continuing to stay out of the executive, they’re continuing to block life-saving legislation going through.
“They’re continuing to block all the rest of us who want to work together, to be in the executive to do our business, the job that we are here and elected to do.”
The organ donation law is named after Belfast boy Daithi MacGabhann, six, who is waiting for a heart transplant.
Daithi and his parents Mairtin MacGabhann and Seph Ni Mheallain were at Stormont on Tuesday to watch the ill-fated attempt to restore the institutions.
Ms O’Neill said the uncertainty over the law had taken its toll on the family.
“The next step obviously is Westminster,” she said.
“That’s far from ideal but, you know what, nothing should get in the way of getting this finished.
“That’s what I’m determined to do and I will support the family to the very, very end until we get this done.”