Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says Windsor Framework will not change

The Prime Minister has said his deal with the EU will not change although he is willing to discuss flexibilities around the implementation of the Windsor Framework.

Rishi Sunak also refused to commit to discussing a so-called plan B with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if the Executive is not restored.

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said the British and Irish governments needed to be proactive on finding a solution. She said given some elements of the Windsor Framework came into being at the weekend there was no reason for the DUP boycott to continue.

Conservative leader Mr Sunak was speaking to UTV ahead of his party conference.

He told UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee: "When I got this job, it was really important to me to resolve the issues with the protocol.

"I care deeply about Northern Ireland's place in our union. And I also knew that the protocol was the biggest stumbling block to there being a functioning Executive up in Stormont.

"I want normal people who want to have a government. That's what they deserve. So I set about trying to resolve those issues. That's what the Windsor Framework was about.

"I'm pleased we could do that. And now we want to keep working with stakeholders to see if we can continue to make improvements and make sure it is implemented well."

The DUP has been blocking power sharing for more than a year in protest at the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol. The party says the Windsor Framework does not sufficiently address its concerns and has made clear it will not countenance a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market. Talks between the DUP and Government have been ongoing over the summer.

Mr Sunak continued: "I think everyone acknowledges that it is a huge improvement on the protocol.

"It does, I believe secure Northern Ireland's plays in our union. And resolves many of the practical issues whether it's with pets or parcels or medicines, or indeed making sure that tax and spend policy applies equally in Northern Ireland as elsewhere.

"Now with regard to getting Stormont up and running, we are intensively working behind the scenes as you would expect... behind the scenes, we're having intensive dialogue with all the parties, because I want to see that government up and running because that's what people of Northern Ireland need and deserve."

Mr Sunak said the framework was set, "but we can always find ways to work with stakeholders and making sure that we can implement it in a way that is flexible, that supportive of businesses and supportive communities where we can make improvements.

"Of course we're open to doing that the overall framework that we've negotiated with the EU is that as I said, it's a huge improvement on the protocol.

"And as I said, practically resolves issues like pets like parcels, like medicines, and making sure that tax policy applies equally."

Mr Sunak said there was "good dialogue" with parties in Northern Ireland.

"The Windsor Framework is the Windsor Framework, but where we can work with stakeholders in its implementation to do it in a way that is better or more flexible of course, we'll be open to doing that and that that is happening as we speak in that dialogue I very much welcome.

"But the fundamentals are what they are and they resolve the practical issues that were raised with me.

"We've resolved all of those issues with the framework. It does provide a basis for these cross party talks to happen and we are supporting that because I want to see the executive up and running."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the potential for a "plan B" if devolved government in Northern Ireland is not restored by the autumn. Something NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris described as "unhelpful".

The Prime Minister said he was committed to finding a way to get the Executive up and running and would discuss a range of things with Mr Varadkar.

"People will speculate on all those sorts of things. But what I want to do is make sure that we implement the framework in a sensible and pragmatic way and then we we have cross-party talks which we are supporting to get the executive up and running that is my focus."

Asked about the ongoing degradation of public services in Northern Ireland given the absence of devolved government, Mr Sunak said: "People deserve and need their own government

"I removed the biggest stumbling block, which was the protocol.

"The UK government has put unprecedented amount of funding into Northern Ireland... more so than any other part of the UK. Those are the facts.

"But it's also important that we have sustainable finances in every part of the country but no one can say that the UK Government has not put huge sums of money into Northern Ireland and that and most importantly, right now, people are struggling with the cost of living.

"That's why the first my priorities is to have inflation that will help people in Northern Ireland the latest data we have shown on the plan is working and for those on the lowest incomes, they are receiving direct help from the UK Government."

Mr Sunak was also asked if his government would continue to press ahead with its controversial Troubles amnesty law.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act received royal assent last week despite widespread opposition from political parties, victims’ organisations in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government.

Aspects of the laws include a limited form of immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences to those who co-operate with the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. It will also halt future civil cases and inquests. A number of relatives of Troubles victims have launched legal challenges to the law.

Mr Sunak added: "I think everyone accepts that the situation as it was was not working. It wasn't delivering the information that people needed the justice that people deserved. And that's why we've said about trying to make improvements.

"Now I understand the strength of feeling. We are finding way through these are all uncomfortable and difficult choices. I accept that but we do want to significantly improve on what was there before and I think we are doing that we're doing it sensitively, whilst keeping in compliance with all our international obligations."

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