DUP panel to review Northern Ireland Brexit deal by end of March

Northern Ireland’s biggest unionist party has set up a consultative group to evaluate the revamped post-Brexit trading regime by the end of March, days before the 25th anniversary of the region’s key peace deal.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist party, on Monday said the panel would canvass views and pinpoint the areas most affected by the new Windsor framework, agreed last week by the UK and EU.

“History teaches us that it is always better to get the right outcome for Northern Ireland rather than a rushed one,” Donaldson said in a statement.

The verdict of the panel, which will include former DUP heads as well as figures from law and business, is due just over a week before the April 10 anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement — an occasion the UK hopes to mark with a visit by Joe Biden.

But the DUP’s long boycott of the Stormont political institutions established by that accord threatens to overshadow any visit by the US president. The party has demanded sweeping changes to the current post-Brexit trading regime since May last year.

Biden is seen as unlikely to want to attend unless there is at least a DUP commitment to restoring Stormont.

The Windsor framework is designed to replace the Northern Ireland protocol, which unionists said undermined their place within the UK by erecting a customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering the region from Great Britain.

Donaldson is caught between hardline unionists, who say the Windsor deal is not good enough, and moderates who see it as the best one available.

“This is all about edging towards going back in [to Stormont],” said one well-informed unionist. “I don’t see any hardcore sceptics in there.”

The panel includes former party leader Peter Robinson, who last week advised the DUP to give “serious thought” to whether a better deal could be struck if it decided to oppose the Windsor framework.

He also urged them to “consider whether in rejecting the framework . . . we place unionism and Northern Ireland on more perilous ground”.

Baroness Arlene Foster, another former DUP leader, will also sit on the panel, along with businessman Ross Reed and John McBurney, a lawyer and member of the Independent Reporting Commission that is monitoring continued paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen last week unveiled the Windsor deal, which is designed to slash red tape and ease friction created by the protocol.

The DUP is already seeking clarity from London on “a range of issues” regarding the new framework.


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