Rishi Sunak has managed to avoid humiliation in the vote on the ‘Stormont Brake’ aspect of his ‘Windsor Framework’ deal with the EU over trade in Northern Ireland. Instead the shame was hung on the Democratic Unionists and Tories in the European Research Group faction.
MPs voted by 515 to 29 to support the deal agreed by Rishi Sunak.
But the defeat means the DUP has vowed to continue its boycott of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont – with possibly serious consequences for the province.
Spokespeople for the other Northern Irish political parties have begged the DUP to come back, according to the BBC:
Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said the DUP had to “stop their boycott” of Stormont so that executive ministers could take control of the budget.
Ministers had to be in post to make the case to the Treasury for extra funding for Northern Ireland, Ms O’Neill added.
“This budget is about to cause catastrophic damage to public services,” she said.
“So the DUP need to get around the table with the rest of us, make politics work.”
Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said Northern Ireland was “bleeding at present”, with problems piling up and public services in real crisis.
He said his party had asked the UK government to consider providing a financial package and it appeared “the door is open to that”.
“This will require the parties in Northern Ireland to work together and to make a very persuasive case… to the Treasury,” he said.
“So it reinforces the impetus on the DUP to join the rest of us in ensuring we have proper governance here.”
Ulster Unionist assembly member Robbie Butler said the level of budget cuts “on that cliff edge at the moment actually is quite alarming”.
He urged the DUP to accept the “difficulties” with the Windsor Framework and “put the people of Northern Ireland first”.
Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Colum Eastwood said the DUP had to accept that it could not get everything it wanted from the new Brexit deal.
“We have a huge opportunity with this [deal] to trade into both [UK and EU] markets unencumbered,” said the Foyle MP.
“People in Britain would give their right arm to have that opportunity.”
But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the ‘Windsor Framework’ would not deliver the long-term stability and prosperity that Northern Ireland needs.
Adding insult to injury, he adopted the rhetoric of Labour’s Keir Starmer, saying there was “an element of the sticking plaster” about Rishi Sunak’s new deal with the European Union, and it would not work.
He went on to say he is “not a quitter” and will continue trying to get the deal changed – a tall order, considering the joint UK-EU body that is overseeing Brexit will meet o ratify the legal changes brought about by the Windsor Framework – tomorrow (Friday, March 24, 2023).
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has met the five main Stormont parties at Hillsborough to discuss the new Brexit deal as well as Northern Ireland’s public finances, which he said were not in a good state.
He said he would have to set Northern Ireland’s budget for the coming year within the next few weeks if the executive was not up and running soon – and there would be some “tough decisions” if that happened.
It seems a very thinly-veiled threat, not just to the DUP but to all of the Northern Irish politicians: “get back to normal or suffer”.
But nobody in NI will be in any doubt about where responsibility will lie if the Tories in Westminster penalise them with Budget restrictions, and there may be knock-on consequences at the ballot box.
Is the DUP really willing to court electoral wipeout for the sake of what many see as not just a lost cause, but also a pointless one?
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