By Christopher McKeon, PA
The DUP will consider returning to power-sharing arrangements at Stormont once a Bill to re-write the Northern Ireland Protocol passes the House of Commons, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said.
But the DUP leader declined to put a firm timetable on returning, saying only that the party will “consider what steps we can take”.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the first Commons debate on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, Sir Jeffrey said: “I have made clear that we will be condition-led, not calendar-led, and that we want to see real progress with this Bill, and that’s our message today to the House of Commons.”
Sir Jeffrey reiterated his party’s support for the Bill, which has been criticised by nationalists in Northern Ireland and the opposition in Westminster as a breach of international law, and said he expected to see the Bill pass the Commons by the summer recess.
Several Conservative backbenchers are expected to rebel and vote against the Bill on Monday, while the House of Lords is expected to be a major obstacle to the Bill becoming law.
Sir Jeffrey left open the possibility of the DUP returning to some participation in Stormont before the Bill becomes law, saying his party will “consider what steps we might take in the period whilst the Bill is under consideration”.
But he said Conservative MPs opposed to Boris Johnson should not use the Bill as a way of dealing with the party’s internal issues, and warned peers that blocking the Bill would mean “wrecking the Good Friday Agreement as well”.
He said: “We know there will be some opposition from some Conservative MPs who have always opposed Brexit, but I think that for the vast majority of Conservative MPs the idea of playing political football with Northern Ireland, with such a sensitive issue as this, I think they recognise is not the way to deal with the internal problems in the Conservative Party.
“The prime minister is the prime minister at the moment, he continues in office, he is taking this Bill forward, we support the Bill and we want to see it going through parliament.
“The message we will be giving today to all MPs is if they want to see political institutions restored, if they truly want to protect the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, then this Bill is the way to achieve that. I don’t see any alternative on the table at the moment.”
He added that the DUP would “look at” any proposal from the EU that addresses its concerns about the protocol, but said the bloc would have to show “more pragmatism and more realism”.