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The DUP Warns Joe Biden's Northern Ireland Visit "Does Not Change" Its Brexit Deal Stance

4 min read

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned that President Joe Biden's visit to Northern Ireland "does not change" his party's stance as it continues to block the formation of a government in the region.

Speaking at Ulster University on Wednesday, Biden said he hoped Northern Ireland's political institutions would be restored "soon" after the DUP collapsed them in early 2022 as part of its protest against post-Brexit arrangements for trade with Great Britain.

“As a friend, I hope it’s not too presumptuous for me to say that I believe the democratic institutions established in Good Friday Agreement remain critical for the future of Northern Ireland,” said Biden, who is visiting the UK and Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the peace deal. 

“It’s a decision for you to make, not for me to make, but it seems to me they are related.

"An effective devolved government that reflects the people of Northern Ireland and is accountable to them, a government that works to find ways through hard problems together, is going to draw even greater opportunity in this region.

“So, I hope the assembly and the executive will soon be restored. That’s a judgement for you to make, not me, but I hope it happens, along with the institutions that facilitate north south and east west relations, all of which are vital pieces of the Good Friday Agreement."

Speaking afterwards, Donaldson said that while he welcomed Biden's visit, it would not impact "the political dynamic" in Northern Ireland, and said that the UK government would need to take further steps to address DUP concerns before the party agrees to form a government in Belfast.

"I had a brief conversation with the president and he made clear that it's not his job to take decisions for political leaders in Northern Ireland but that the US stands ready to support Northern Ireland in whatever way it can," Donaldson told reporters.

"It doesn't change the political dynamic in Northern Ireland," he continued.

"We know what needs to happen and I'll be meeting my team over the next few days before going back to the government.

"We believe the government needs to go further in terms of protecting Northern Ireland's place within the UK and our ability to trade within the UK internal market, and that's what needs to happen to enable us to move towards the restoration of the political institutions."

The DUP walked out of Stormont devolved power-sharing government early last year in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol. The treaty was agreed as part of the UK's Brexit deal with the European Union as a way of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, but did so by creating a contentious trade border in the Irish Sea.

In February, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed a revised version of the treaty called the Windsor framework, which was formally adopted by London and Brussels last month after comfortably passing a House of Commons vote.

While the DUP has described the deal as an improvement on the original protocol, it says it does not go far enough to address its concerns about Northern Ireland's place in the Union.

A key part of the deal struck in Windsor is a mechanism called the 'Stormont Brake' – which gives members of Northern Ireland's legislative assembly (MLAs) the ability to stop new EU laws being applied in the region. 

The DUP argues it is flawed because in exceptional circumstances the UK government can green light the application of an EU law, even if MLAs have triggered the Stormont Brake to stop it.

The government is hopeful that the DUP will agree to re-enter power-sharing this summer once Northern Ireland's 18 May local elections are out of the way, PoliticsHome reported last month. 

Chris Heaton Harris, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, has told DUP figures that the UK government will provide futher "constitutional guarantees" in a bid to address the party's concerns about the region's place in the UK under the Windsor framework.

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