DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party will not give way to pressure from anyone during negotiations with the Government over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
He also said the “megaphone diplomacy” from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was not helpful in Northern Ireland.
He made the comments at a major investment conference in Belfast. Ahead of its opening, NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said it was not ideal there was no devolved government in place, but it would not spoil the conference.
Sir Jeffrey responded to comments from Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who said the DUP was being pressurised by a small number of hardliners to stay out of the Stormont assembly.
Mr Baker said businesses were investing in Northern Ireland despite the politicians.
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill again called on the DUP to end its blockade of Stormont.
Sir Jeffrey said: “My party doesn’t give way to pressure, whether it is from the minister or anyone else. “We have been consistent in our position, that has not changed. We have outlined our position to the Government on numerous occasions. “We are engaged with the Government on an ongoing basis to resolve the issues that have given rise to the problems for Northern Ireland. “I have been dealing this week, indeed this morning, with a local business having major problems getting goods into Northern Ireland, stopped at customs, even though those goods were manufactured in Great Britain and are for sale exclusively in Northern Ireland.” He added: “I live in the real world, I recognise the problems that we have, the challenges that we face and I am looking for solutions.”
Invest Northern Ireland has hailed the Windsor Framework Agreement as a selling point for Northern Ireland given the access the region has for both GB and EU markets.
Sir Jeffrey said that dual market access can work for Northern Ireland only if trading issues with the rest of the UK are solved.
He said: “The Windsor Framework does represent some progress in some areas, but in reality it doesn’t address and resolve all of the difficulties faced by businesses.”
He added: “I am in the business of resolving those difficulties and making it easier for businesses to access our biggest market, which is Great Britain.
“Dual market access can work for Northern Ireland if we genuinely have that unfettered access to our biggest market.
“Having that access to our own market is fundamentally important to our economy.”
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said “megaphone diplomacy” from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was not helpful in Northern Ireland.
He said: “I am engaged with the UK Government and it is they who need to bring forward the solutions, and I know that they are talking also to the European Union about that.
“I can tell you that we have made progress in identifying the outstanding issues which need to be resolved but we haven’t yet got the solutions.”
Sir Jeffrey responded to recent comments from Mr Varadkar, who said that negotiations to restore Stormont were moving at a “snail’s pace” and also that he believed he would see Irish unity in his lifetime.
Sir Jeffrey said: “My advice to the Taoiseach is very clear. His interventions recently have not been helpful. He is planning for failure, I am not.
“He talks about a Plan B, I am focused on Plan A, which is getting this right for the people of Northern Ireland.
“Unlike the Taoiseach, I have a mandate from the people to do this, to pursue the solutions that we need, and then we’ll get the institutions up and running.
“This megaphone diplomacy by Leo Varadkar is not helpful and I think he should reflect on the harm he is doing.”
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill again called on the DUP to end its blockade of Stormont.
She said: “They need to get into the executive with the rest of us and take these opportunities that we have.
“There is tremendous opportunity here.
“We have to capitalise on access to both markets (UK and EU).
“We have an attentive international audience.
“These opportunities shouldn’t be missed.”
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