Government to reassure unionists over new Brexit deal: Northern Ireland Secretary Heaton-Harris

Chris Heaton-Harris
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The Government will legislate to reassure unionists that their constitutional position in the United Kingdom is secure, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has said.

He also said that clarity would be provided in coming days over the workings of the Stormont brake element of the new post-Brexit Windsor Framework.

Mr Heaton-Harris also said he hoped that with time and space the new UK-EU deal would pave the way for the return of the Stormont powersharing institutions.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the EU Commission President’s Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the new framework earlier this week to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol which had led the DUP to collapse the Stormont power-sharing institutions.

The latest deal seeks to remove post-Brexit trade barriers, creating a new system for the flow of goods into Northern Ireland.

The DUP, which is currently boycotting the Stormont power-sharing institutions, has said it will study the new framework against its seven tests before reaching a “collective” conclusion.

However, a number of senior party members, including Sammy Wilson, Lord Dodds and Ian Paisley, have already been vocal in expressing concerns about the deal.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson publicly criticised the deal, saying he would find it “very difficult” to support.

Mr Heaton-Harris told the BBC he believes most unionist concerns with the deal relate to the Acts of Union.

He said: “This is why we are clear we need to make sure that Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom is secure so we will be looking to bring forward amendments to the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 to provide further assurances on that matter.

“There are concerns amongst unionists and we believe that we can, through the Northern Ireland Act 1998, provide a whole host of proper legal assurances.

“Reassurances in law that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom and it is the Government saying that in primary legislation which is what people are asking for.”

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the Government wanted to give all parties in Northern Ireland time and space to study the deal.

He added: “That decision lays on the shoulders of the DUP members and I know they will be listening to their electorate.

“With the time and space the parties have I am hoping we can get to a place where Stormont can come back.

“This is a ground-breaking agreement and is very good for Northern Ireland.

“This is the deal we have done with the European Union, this is what is on the table.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said the new framework meant that 97% of EU laws which applied under the Northern Ireland Protocol, would now be disapplied.

The deal announced this week aims to give a future Northern Ireland Assembly a greater say on how remaining EU laws apply to Northern Ireland, a mechanism known as the Stormont brake.

Mr Heaton-Harris said more details about the brake would be communicated to parties in coming days.

He said: “In the next few days we are going to codify this and demonstrate how we will codify this.

“Essentially it is going to act similar to the petition of concern mechanism so 30 MLAs from two parties can trigger such a concern.

“This will be codified in the next few days so everyone can get the clarity they want.”

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