The DUP has secured significant concessions on Brexit and “safeguards” for the Union in return for agreeing to a return of the Stormont Assembly and Executive.
Post-Brexit checks on goods between Britain and the north of Ireland are set to end under new plans, while the Withdrawal Act will also be amended, meaning EU law will no longer apply automatically in the North.
The details are contained in an 80-page British government document entitled ‘Safeguarding the Union’ which is openly offensive to nationalism.
In the final months of the current Tory administration, it has delivered on a DUP wish-list with a document laden with unionist language which appears to breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
One section dismisses its pathway to Irish reunification by declaring that the British government “sees no realistic prospect of a border poll leading to a united Ireland”.
It adds: “We believe that, following the restoration of the devolved institutions, Northern Ireland’s future in the UK will be secure for decades to come and as such the conditions for a border poll are unlikely to be objectively met.”
Other elements run contrary to the 1998 peace deal, including legal changes to fulfil the “original purpose” the 1800 Acts of Union, a new ‘East-West Council’ and a new trade body to tie the North closer to Britain. There is also a bizarre plan to hold one meeting of the British war cabinet in the north of Ireland every year.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson (pictured, left, with British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris) has claimed that his list of seven demands had been met in part or in whole.
In particular, he claimed to have scrapped the ‘Irish Sea border’ pointing to the cancellation of a ‘border post’ to inspect goods travelling into Scotland from Ireland, which is to be replaced by random spot checks.
And he said the automatic appliance of EU laws to the Six Counties would end and there would be a “new democratic scrutiny mechanisms in the Assembly” to request that any new EU laws are vetoed by the London government.
The document sets out key changes to trade regulations of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol. Some 80% of goods are now expected to move free of routine checks through a new “internal market” system.
There is also a pledge to scrap a legal commitment that Brexit arrangements must have regard to the all-island economy, which was contained in the original Brexit deal. Unionist hardliners had raged at the idea that cross-border trade could benefit the entire island.
But ultra-hardline unionist Jim Allister, leader of the TUV party, still accused the DUP of being “Protocol implementers”.
He said the deal still failed to make Brexit compatible with Article 6 of the Acts of Union – the archaic legislation, which was drafted in the 17th century to annex the entire island of Ireland, declares that “the subjects of Great Britain and Ireland shall be on the same footing in respect of trade and navigation”.
A number of DUP figures are also understood to be still opposed to he deal, including one said to have “worn a wire” in order to bug a critical meeting of the party’s Executive on Monday night.
Speaking in the House of Commons, DUP hardliner East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson criticised the “spineless, weak-kneed, Brexit-betraying government” but stopped short of rejecting the deal.
Irish politicians had no criticism, and a US congressman who had a long involvement in the North’s peace process even described it “as a victory for democracy and for the people of Northern Ireland”.
Richard Neal, the US Democratic congressman for Massachusetts, was speaking at the House of Representatives session on Wednesday, and said that he applauded the deal.
“After nearly two years of delay, Stormont is one step closer to resuming the people’s business. This is a victory for democracy and for the people of Northern Ireland,” he said before drawing comparison between this week’s agreement and the Good Friday Agreement.
He praised “the parties in Northern Ireland” for “acting in good faith to restore government and resume the difficult work.. of legislating.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said her party was satisfied that the Good Friday Agreement has not been damaged or undermined by the DUP deal.
Her focus has been on the imminent return of the Stormont Assembly. “Sinn Féin will now engage with the parties and Governments to ensure we now all press on without delay,” she said.