April 13. 2024. 6:04

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DUP seeks to distance itself from Ian Paisley’s downbeat Windsor Framework reaction

The DUP has said it is continuing to assess the Windsor Framework as pressure builds on the party to give its response to the post-Brexit deal and return to Stormont.

Several high-profile party members have spoken out against the deal in recent days, including the MPs Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley and the former deputy leader Lord Dodds.

Other parties have also called on the DUP to end its block on the North’s powersharing institutions and re-enter the Assembly and Executive.

In the foreword to a report and legal opinion on the framework published by the unionist think tank the Centre for the Union on Wednesday night, Mr Paisley said his “instinctive reaction to the Windsor Framework remains that the problem is not yet solved”.

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He also said that as it stands the framework “cannot be supported by unionists as a solution to the protocol”.

In the same document, the North’s former attorney general, John Larkin QC, said the framework did not strengthen Northern Ireland’s constitutional status as part of the UK.

A DUP spokesman on Thursday sought to distance Mr Paisley’s remarks from the party, saying he was speaking in his capacity as chair of the think tank rather than as a DUP MP.

The spokesman said the party was “assessing the Windsor Framework against its seven tests and consulting following the publication of that framework”.

“Upon completion of that process it will be for the party collectively to set out its position and next steps,” he said.

The Windsor Framework was agreed between the EU and UK on Monday to resolve the long-running dispute over the post-Brexit trading arrangement known as the Northern Ireland protocol.

The DUP is continuing to block the formation of the Northern Executive or Assembly as part of its protest against the protocol.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine the Northern Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, intends to begin consultations with the Northern parties “almost immediately” and legislation would follow.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Heaton-Harris said he said he had been “encouraged” by the reaction to the framework so far and emphasised its benefits.

“With our deal we are decisively taking back control in a host of areas from Brussels,” he said.

“It ensures unfettered access for Northern Ireland made goods to the whole UK market, restores the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and provides Stormont with the opportunity to reject the application of any harmful new EU rules in the few areas in which they remain.

“We have never said this is the perfect solution, but it is a better option than the Protocol Bill,” he said.

In his first major speech since leaving office last year, the former UK prime minister Boris Johnson was critical of the deal brokered by Mr Sunak, saying it was “not about the UK taking back control.”

He said he would “find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself, because I believed we should’ve done something very different.”

Separately, former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, intervened in the debate around the Windsor Framework on Thursday to suggest some British politicians want to “hide” the extent of the European Union’s influence over trade arrangements in the North in the deal struck this week.

A pivotal moment for Northern Ireland

Listen | 33:38

Referring to the agreement to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Juncker said “the European Commission will have more authority than it seems” in the delicate arrangements meant to prevent a hard border with the Republic, while minimising disruption in the North’s trade with Britain.

The continued application in the North of EU law in relation to the European single market is a sore point for the DUP. Mr Juncker’s intervention homes in on the issue that has caused most anger among unionists.

“The European Court of Justice has been reconfirmed in his role as an arbiter when it comes to internal market questions concerning Northern Ireland,” he said.

“So, I think that although the deal is giving a response to the major British concerns there is a part of European Union in the deal some in Britain are trying to hide,” Mr Juncker told LBC broadcaster Andrew Marr in an interview broadcast this evening.

Mr Juncker, who was succeeded as the head of the commission by Ursula von der Leyen in 2019, said the terms in the Windsor Framework could have been negotiated by one of Mr Sunak’s predecessors, Boris Johnson, if he wanted them. He described Mr Johnson as a “piece of work” but said he personally liked him despite their political differences.

Mr Juncker also said Britain should reintroduce free movement of workers from across the European Union. But he said he could see no chance “whatsoever and wheresoever and whensoever” that Britain would ever rejoin the EU.

Additional reporting – PA.