DUP stalwart and MP for East Antrim Sammy Wilson has branded the UK government as “spineless, weak-kneed and Brexit-betraying” after it published the details of the deal it reached with the DUP on post-Brexit trade arrangements.
It comes as the UK government unveiled details of the deal and hailed it as the “right” one to restore power-sharing at Stormont.
“When the Northern Ireland Assembly sits, ministers and Assembly members will be expected by law to adhere to and implement laws which are made in Brussels, which they had no say over and no ability to amend, and no ability to stop,” Mr Wilson said.
“This is a result of this spineless, weak-kneed, Brexit-betraying government, refusing to take on the EU and its interference in Northern Ireland.”
He added: “Is Northern Ireland going to find it’s got the ability to stay tied to the United Kingdom, or will the government proceed happily to change laws here regardless of the impact it has on Northern Ireland?”
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said EU law alignment would no longer automatically apply under the government’s plans, adding legislation will be passed to reaffirm Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.
In response to Mr Wilson, he said: “On the fourth anniversary of leaving the European Union, I can tell him absolutely that this agreed package of measures will not change the freedoms and powers we have secured through Brexit or through the Windsor Framework.
“It will not reduce our ability to diverge nor our commitment to do so should it be in the interest of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Mr Heaton-Harris also praised DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson for his commitment to the union and work during the negotiations. He told MPs it was time to build on the progress of the last 25 years.
“The result, as I hope honourable members will agree, is a deal that, taken as a whole, is the right one for Northern Ireland and for the union,” he said.
“With this package it is now time for elected representatives in Northern Ireland to come together, to end the two years of impasse and start work again in the interests of the people that elected them,” Mr Heaton-Harris added.
“Today we have presented a plan which will deliver the long-term change that Northern Ireland needs. It will strengthen Northern Ireland’s place in our union and guarantee the free flow of goods across the entire United Kingdom.
“It’s only by sticking to this plan that we will become a more united and prosperous country together,” he said.
Tánaiste ‘does not anticipate any difficulties on the EU side’
Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said he does not anticipate any difficulties on the EU side in relation to the new deal published today.
He said the EU Commission will look at this and that the purpose of joint committee is to go through issues as they arise.
Mr Martin added that advocacy from unionism has “paid dividends” in changing post-Brexit trade arrangements.
He insisted that he had listened “very carefully” to unionist concerns in his current role and when he was Taoiseach.
“In many ways, the Windsor Framework was a significant advance on the [Northern Ireland] Protocol and what had been there from unionist perspective, and I would say that advocacy for unionism paid dividends.
“Because, let’s face it, and I’ve always said this: many elements of Windsor, people were told couldn’t happen, and it did happen,” Mr Martin said.
“I do sense from talking to political parties that there is a recognition and the realisation that this is a moment in time now when the restoration of the assembly and executive must lead to a sustainable restoration, must lead to focus on the issues that matter to the people of Northern Ireland,” he added.
The Tánaiste said he must “pay tribute” to various representative bodies of businesses in Northern Ireland who had an influence on how events leading up to the deal “evolved”.
“Their voice, I believe, has been heard by the British Government, by the Irish Government by the European Union, and I think we now have a much more effective and sensible set of arrangements.”
For Labour, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Hilary Benn described the agreement as a “great achievement” while DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson said: “We have turned the impossible into the possible.”
Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers and Conservative MP William Cash also questioned the influence of EU laws on Northern Ireland.
Ms Villiers said: “I’m sure there will be much to welcome in the papers published today and we’ll need to scrutinise them carefully in the 30 or so hours before we’re going to be asked to vote on them.”
Mr Cash asked what was being done to ensure the UK government can “remove or veto the imposition of EU laws on Northern Ireland”.
Mr Heaton-Harris said the Assembly will have a powerful “democratic safeguard” when it comes to EU laws.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described it as a “very good day for the people of Northern Ireland” before suggesting the UK and Irish governments, along with the political parties, should look at how to reform the Good Friday Agreement institutions to “make sure no one party can ever pull them down again”.
Some MPs expressed concerns over the amount of time expected to be available in the House of Commons on Thursday to debate statutory instruments (SIs) to enshrine several of the deal’s commitments in law.
DUP MP for South Antrim, Paul Girvan said: “We very much feel we’re being bounced on a timetable where we’re not going to get through the detail that is supposedly in the SIs and also this document.”