Unionism and business react to Windsor Framework as DUP sets up panel

While a DUP panel examines the new Brexit deal, other voices within unionism have already made up their mind on the Windsor Framework.

Inside the latest TUV party meeting, opinions were very clear - the new agreement is no different from the Northern Ireland Protocol.

TUV leader Jim Allister told UTV: "There's going to be no change of substance, all that's allowed is tinkering and that's what we're getting and the essential essence of the Protocol remains.

Asked whether he believed the Prime Minster oversold his deal, Mr Allister said Rishi Sunak "ran out of superlatives".

"It does not match up. When you go to the legal text, which is set out in pretty bold terms, it's quite clear that there's no change of substance whatsoever here," he said.

"The Irish Sea border stays, EU law stays, EU court of justice stays - the only thing that's gone is the Government's Protocol Bill which might have itself been able to do something about the protocol."

While the TUV outlined its verdict, among DUP members there is a split in opinion.

The party has already distanced itself from the views of MPs Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley, who have voiced concern over the deal.

It's not the first time the party has appeared divided. In 2021, the DUP's first ever leadership contest led to a public rivalry between Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and former leader Edwin Poots.

Last week, former party leader Peter Robinson sent his own warning on social media, encouraging the DUP to "maintain maximum cohesion" and for members to "express their views privately".

And they may just have listened.

On Monday, the DUP leader announced his intentions to set up a panel to gauge the reaction of businesses and communities to the deal.

Politics Professor at the University of Liverpool, Jon Tonge, told UTV there was some division within the DUP.

"It's not an absolute split between those Westminster MPs who don't have as much skin in the game here and have been pretty hostile to the deal and MLAs here at Stormont because they, you know, their livelihoods are at stake here," he said.

"If the DUP doesn't go back in as a result of this deal, when will the DUP go back? And so potentially those MLAs, those 25 DUP MLAs, could lose their livelihoods.

"Not all of the DUP MLAs will want that. So whilst the division is far from precise, remember Edwin Poots said he would rather eat grass than deal with the protocol, nonetheless, you know, I think there is a potential, not necessarily of a split within the DUP but of significant internal different views within the party."

The DUP panel will also be analysing the supposed powers of the 'Stormont Brake', a mechanism within the Windsor Framework which MLAs can trigger if they want to stop a new EU Law from applying here.

The Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has said it will act as a veto - but the instrument needs UK Government approval and even then, the EU could override any pushback.

Ben Lowry, editor of the News Letter said: "There's still a lot of different interpretation and spin on the Stormont brake. I mean, people I talked to in London say that it is a game changer and hugely significant and there's others who say that it will actually barely be able to be used.

"And that's something that we're going to have to continue to look at in the media world and, and in the political world.

"Of course there are concerns on the other side outside of unionism. The Stormont break might give too much power to unionists. So it's something that will be continued to be scrutinised closely in the coming weeks."

While the DUP combs over the legalities of this new deal, businesses here are more concerned about whether it will work in practice.

AM Logistics in Larne transports retail goods to and from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland

One of the firm's directors, Sarah Hards, told UTV: "We can see that it's going to be easier to move goods, that supply chains will maybe go back to normal, that there will be more variety on the shelves here and hopefully a reduction in cost as well as we've all seen costs increase over recent years and this is one of the reasons why.

"There may be parts of it that would like to see a bit more information on.

"We do groupage here, which means that you could get, you know, deliveries from kind of different companies all over the country from GB. And I think that's maybe been a little bit forgotten about. So it would be good to get more detail on that, which I'm sure will come in time. I don't think there's an opportunity for renegotiation, but there's an opportunity to kind of have little tweaks and work on it in the business community."

It looks likely the the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will go ahead with his deal, with or without the DUP's support.

Prof. Tonge believes the DUP may not give a clear yes or no.

"I think what may happen is the DUP don't actually take a formal decision on this. They fudge it. There's not a straightforward yes, there's not a straightforward no from the DUP, but at some point they may decide to come back into Stormont and see how Protocol 'mark two' - the Windsor framework actually plays out in practice.

"If that playing out of the protocol is unsatisfactory, the DUP would have the right of course to walk out again. So it would be a conditional re-entry. That may keep the DUP united. Whether they would ever risk walking out again, of course, is up to question. But it is an option. It's one option that they could seriously consider."

This week the parties are meeting with government officials to work out the technicalities of the Framework.

However, with a new DUP panel set up to analyse the deal, no decision is expected before the end of the month.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.