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DUP MPs "Unanimously" Agree To Vote Against Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Alamy)

4 min read

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs will vote against Rishi Sunak's Windsor framework on Wednesday, party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed.

In a meeting this morning, DUP officers "unanimously agreed" that the Northern Ireland party's eight Westminster MPs would oppose legislation being put to the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

The party, which collapsed Northern Ireland's devolved power-sharing government in Stormont early last year over the post-Brexit arrangements for the region, still has "key areas of concern" about the deal signed by Sunak and the European Union last month, Donaldson said in a statement.

The news will come as a blow to Sunak, who had hoped that the Windsor framework would persuade the DUP to allow the formation of a government in Stormont.

Donaldson's announcement may also embolden hardline pro-Brexit Conservative MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) to vote against the legislation on Wednesday.

The ERG is set to deliver its detailed legal verdict on the agreement in a Westminster press conference on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday MPs will vote on an element of the Windsor framework called the 'Stormont Brake'.

This is a new mechanism devised by UK and EU negotiators to give members of Northern Ireland's legislative assembly (MLAs) a veto over new EU regulations being applied in the region.

A No 10 spokesperson said on Monday it was "the most significant element" of the Windsor deal, which is why MPs were being given a vote on the statutory instrument (SI) needed to implement it.

In his statement, Donaldson cited concern over how the Stormont Brake would work in practice as why DUP MPs would be voting against the government on Wednesday.

"Notwithstanding the issues and conditions which have to be met to make the brake work it remains the case that the 'brake' is not designed for, and therefore cannot apply, to the EU law which is already in place and for which no consent has been given for its application," he said.

"Whilst representing real progress the 'brake' does not deal with the fundamental issue which is the imposition of EU law by the Protocol."

The DUP leader said his party would "continue to work" with the UK government on addressing their remaining concerns, leaving the possibility that his party could agree to support the Windsor deal - and return to government in Northern Ireland – later down the line.

What is the DUP's problem?

Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, has today accused Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris of misleading his party over how the Stormont Brake will work in practice.

Wilson said Heaton Harris was "totally incorrect in his assertion" that the UK government would be "bound" to veto the imposition of EU law in Northern Ireland if the Stormont Brake is used.

The Stormont Brake will be activated when 30 or more MLAs from at least two parties in Northern Ireland submit a petition of concern about a particular new EU law that is set to apply in the region.

At that point, the UK government is obliged to notify Brussels that the Stormont Brake has been triggered, and the EU law in question will cease to apply in Northern Ireland. 

However, there is a second stage in the process. The case will then go to a UK-EU joint committee, where the UK government will have to decide whether to veto the imposition of the EU law in Northern Ireland indefinitely, or allow it to apply to the region.

The UK government argues that the latter scenario is very unlikely as it would require cross-community support i.e the backing of unionist and nationalist politicians.

But – and this is why the DUP are unhappy – there are still exceptions.

As set out in the SI, the UK government could decide against blocking the imposition of a new EU law in Northern Ireland if it concludes that it would not create a new regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or if there are "exceptional circumstances".

In a nutshell, the DUP is unhappy because a new EU law could be applied in Northern Ireland even if MLAs use the Stormont Brake in a bid to stop it.

 

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