The DUP have been accused of talking “from both sides of their mouth” on the Brexit protocol after it was revealed former party leader Edwin Poots lobbied to retain elements which benefit the largely unionist farming community.
Mr Poots, while serving as agriculture minister, wrote to then Tory environment secretary George Eustice in July 2021 to say it was “unacceptable” farmers would be forced to accept the same agricultural subsidy regime as in Britain.
He argued that “in so far as agriculture is concerned, the state aid arrangements… of the protocol, provide significant policy flexibility for Northern Ireland”.
Defending his position this week, Mr Poots said “there’s nothing wrong with cherry picking”.
Unionists have continued to insist new regulations on trade between the Six Counties and Britain breach the Acts of Union, the centuries-old British legislation under which Ireland was brought under Westminster rule.
Current DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted that, unless the protocol is replaced, his party’s boycott of Stormont will continue through the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
But the DUP’s apparent double-dealing has been condemned by Sinn Féin MP John Finucane who said that their “cruel boycott” of the Executive had punished the public.
The North Belfast MP said: “The DUP have blocked an Executive being formed now for six months and told people that the Protocol needed to be scrapped in its entirety.
“Now, DUP MLA Edwin Poots, a so-called fierce critic of the Protocol, is lobbying to amend the Tory Protocol Bill to protect parts of the Protocol because of its benefits for farmers.
“This is the same DUP that originally welcomed the Protocol as a gateway of opportunity and then got spooked by opinion polls into railing against it. Edwin Poots himself was Minister in the department implementing border control checks for over a year before trying to halt them.
“The DUP are talking from both sides of their mouth on the Protocol.
“What we need is a negotiated settlement between the EU and British government on the Protocol to ensure people are protected from the worst impacts of Brexit to ensure businesses can continue to grasp the opportunities to create jobs and investment.
“It is unforgivable that the DUP have held up a support payment for people who are struggling to pay their bills and blocked investment in our health service. They should end the boycott and get back to work now.”