Roll out of Brexit concessions for the DUP
Roll out of Brexit concessions for the DUP


The first meeting of a new East-West Council has taken place in London as part of a deal with the DUP on ‘safeguarding the Union’ in return for the party ending its boycott of the Six County institutions.

Its purpose is to look at ways of deepening links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The meeting took place at the ‘Scotland Office’ on Tuesday. Stormont’s first and deputy first ministers attended, along with Sinn Fein Economy Minister Conor Murphy and DUP Communities Minister Gordon Lyons as well as ministers from the Tory government in London. The BBC reported that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was also involved.

Despite criticism by nationalists that it cuts across the North-South institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, First Minister Michelle O’Neill described it as a “useful engagement”, adding that intergovernmental arrangements were “crucially important”.

“Any forum that allows us to have those opportunities, then I think is always going to be something that we should take up,” she said.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader said the council operated as a “forum in which we can improve relations”, but it did not have the statutory powers of the cross-border bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement.

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the new body was “not a threat to anybody” and also denied it was an attempt to bypass the bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement.

She said the institutions under the 1998 peace agreement “persisted, and that meetings planned for the coming months of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council would go ahead.

She said the new East-West Council “complements and supplements what’s there”.

So-called Tory ‘Levelling Up’ Minister, Michael Gove, represented the Westminster government, along with British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris and other officials.

Heaton-Harris denied the council was “another talking shop” but was looking at ways to “strengthen the bonds” between British-occupied Ireland and Great Britain.

“This was needed. This is going to help in a whole host of ways, from exchanges through culture and skills, to making sure that business flows are helped,” he said.

It came after the roll-out of another concession to the DUP, with a vote at Stormont to reject the extension of a new EU law to the north of Ireland.

Under the so-called ‘Stormont Brake’ mechanism introduced as part of the Windsor Framework, unionists can vote to deny a new EU law the necessary cross-community consent so that it doesn’t automatically apply.

It was used last week against a new measure to facilitate trade in craft and industrial products.

“This gives the lie to those who falsely claim nothing has changed,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson tweeted, while attacking unionist hardliners.

“In fact, the DUP has delivered real change to the protocol and ended dynamic alignment to EU law, whilst our detractors have achieved absolutely nothing,” he declared.

“Without a functioning Assembly, this law would automatically pass and we would have no say whatsoever. Unionism has a clear choice. Support the mocking voices of division who shout loud but deliver nothing, or support those who have and continue to deliver a stronger and more united Northern Ireland that contributes positively to the life of our UK.”

Sinn Fein Assembly member Philip McGuigan criticised the move and said Stormont should be “building on the success” of the trade element of the St Patrick’s week trip to the US by 26 and Six County ministers.

“Instead we have this motion, in effect a sham fight, which only serves the purpose of undermining the good work of last week and which could sow confusion to potential investors,” he said.

SDLP leader of the opposition Matthew O’Toole was also scathing of the largest unionist party’s attempt to prove its “anti-EU machismo”.

“The DUP’s stunt in blocking Northern Ireland participation in new protections for craft manufacturing could have real-world consequences for our amazing craft producers,” he warned.

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