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DUP backs deal to return power-sharing to Stormont

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party has backed a decision to go back into power-sharing at Stormont providing the British government delivers promised legislation to reduce the impact of post-Brexit trade rules.

It means the Stormont Executive could potentially be restored within days after a suspension of almost two years.

The DUP pulled the plug on devolution in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol and the subsequent Windsor Framework which the party said weakened Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

Speaking early this morning after a meeting of his party’s ruling executive, which lasted for almost five hours, Mr Donaldson announced that it was satisfied its concerns have been addressed.

“Our goal has been to secure the conditions for a return of devolved government on a sustainable basis and where it can make a real and meaningful improvement in the lives of all the people of this part of the United Kingdom,” he told a press conference in the early hours of this morning.

“The officers, Assembly grouping, parliamentary group and the central executive of the Democratic Unionist Party have now been briefed and considered all aspects of our negotiations between the UK government and the DUP.

“I am pleased to report that the party executive has now endorsed the proposals that I have put to them.

“The party has concluded that subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist Party and the UK government being fully and faithfully delivered as agreed, including the tabling and passing of new legislative measures in parliament and final agreement on a timetable, the package of measures in totality does provide a basis for our party to nominate members to the Northern Ireland Executive, thus seeing the restoration of the locally elected institutions.”

Mr Donaldson said details of the agreement reached between his party and the UK government will be published, adding that the package “safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the Union”.

He said the agreement includes the ending of all customs checks on goods from Great Britain which remain in Northern Ireland and do not cross the border into the Republic and the EU’s Single Market.

The DUP leader would not be drawn on the specific details of a vote on the proposals, but said it was a decisive majority.

He said: “My party took a decision tonight [Monday]. There was a vote taken and there was a decisive decision taken, that is all I am going to say.

“The result was very clear. The party, the DUP, has been decisive in the steps it has taken tonight and I have been mandated with a clear decision by my party.”

The other Northern Ireland parties entitled to seats in the Stormont Executive, Sinn Féin, Alliance and the Ulster Unionists, will meet with the DUP later today to discuss the next steps.

It is understood the British government could publish the text of its agreement with the DUP tomorrow and that legislation to implement it could be passed by the House of Commons on Thursday.

Mr Donaldson said his party has secured cross-party support for the deal in the Commons, meaning it should be debated and approved quickly.

If that timetable is met it is possible a meeting of the Stormont Assembly to elect a First and Deputy First Minister could convene on Saturday, exactly two years from the date the DUP collapsed the last Executive.

The DUP decision has been welcomed by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

The British government has pledged a financial package of £3.3bn to support a restored Executive, including almost £600m for public sector pay claims.

In a statement, Mr Heaton-Harris said that Mr Donaldson “has said this is subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist Party and the UK government – I can confirm that we will stick to this agreement.

“I now believe that all the conditions are in place for the Assembly to return, the parties entitled to form an Executive are meeting tomorrow and I hope to finalise this deal with the political parties as soon as possible.”

Chris Heaton-Harris said the UK government will ‘stick to the agreement’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also welcomed the announcement and said she was optimistic that devolution, including fully functioning North-South bodies, will be restored before a legal deadline of 8 February.

“It is vital there is political stability to address the scale of the crisis across our public services,” she said.

“Let’s now focus minds on the job at hand and to the solutions required to support workers and families who want and deserve functioning government.”

But unionist opponents of the deal have accused the DUP of “sell out” and of betraying voters who backed it in the last Assembly election.

“Sadly, in betrayal of their own solemn pledges, the DUP has caved in on the Irish Sea Border, EU law and the suspension of Article 6,” said Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister.

“Seems not one word of the Union-dismantling Protocol has been removed.”

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