Sophie Wingate and Sam Blewett, PA Political Staff
The DUP has criticised a key part of the new trade deal for Northern Ireland, despite being warned that it is the best offer they will get.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak is giving the unionist party “time and space” to consider the Windsor Framework, which is hoped will restore power-sharing to Stormont after a year-long absence.
Senior DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his party would not “have a knee-jerk reaction” to the agreement, which he suggested the British government knew was “not a great deal”.
Declining to say whether it would take days or weeks, he told Times Radio: “As long as it takes us to, first of all, look at the substance of the deal rather than the spin which the government has given.”
He lashed out at the Stormont brake, the mechanism by which the Northern Ireland Assembly can reject changes to EU goods rules.
“The Stormont brake is not really a brake at all. It is a delaying mechanism.”
In reality, the UK government would have the final say over whether to veto a law, he said, predicting that it would be reluctant to do so due to being “fearful of the consequences of trade for the rest of the United Kingdom” and “retaliatory action” from the EU.
Mr Wilson, who is the DUP’s chief whip, also condemned the involvement of Britain’s King Charles III in the finalising of the EU-UK pact, after he controversially met with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at Windsor Castle on Monday.
“I think first of all it’s really an indication the government knew this deal was not a great deal and were trying to persuade unionists to accept it on the basis that we have great respect for the monarchy,” Mr Wilson said.
“To use the monarch in the way in which he has been used, I think, is a very, very dangerous thing.”
Richard Graham, a member of the executive of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said it would be “very sad” if the DUP rejected the agreement.
He told Sky News: “I think there is a strong feeling that this does make a difference for so many people in Northern Ireland and I think it’s going to be difficult for the DUP to strongly object to this, though they will probably say that it’s not perfect.”
Mr Sunak told Tory MPs he was “confident” the DUP would back his deal as he acknowledged a “spectrum of views” within the unionist party.
Mr Sunak addressed Tory backbenchers at the 1922 Committee in the UK’s House of Commons on Tuesday evening after a visit to Northern Ireland in an attempt to shore up support.
He was understood to have told Conservative colleagues he had “spent a lot of time” with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, whose party walked out of Stormont in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“And I would just say one thing to you all: we should give him and the DUP time and space,” Mr Sunak said.
“So let’s not pressure them for an instant answer,” he added. “Let’s also remember that the last thing the public want is another Westminster drama.”
It was being argued that any resistance to the deal will not result in changes to the framework as reopening an agreement which took months to negotiate is not seen as a workable solution.
With British opposition parties offering support, there is little chance of it failing to receive approval in the British parliament when put to a vote, so the DUP will not be effectively handed a veto over the process.