By Rebecca Black, PA
UK prime minister Boris Johnson will be judged on his actions and not his words over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the DUP leader has said.
Mr Johnson is flying into the region for a series of meetings with the Stormont parties in a bid to restore the power-sharing government.
The DUP is refusing to nominate a speaker to allow the Assembly to function, or a deputy First Minister to allow the Executive to be formed, until the UK takes action on post-Brexit trading arrangements which unionists regard as a border in the Irish Sea.
The DUP has come under pressure from other parties to take part in government.
However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insisted there is no cross-community consensus on the protocol, which he said “fundamentally undermines the basis for power sharing in Northern Ireland and it needs to be dealt with … the sooner the better”.
Asked about a seeming divergence of positions with the DUP asking for the scrapping of the protocol while the UK has referenced over-riding parts of the deal, Mr Donaldson told the BBC: “We’re in a negotiating process and people start from different points, but in the end it is the outcome that matters. That’s what I’m focused on getting, and as soon as we get a solution that removes that Irish Sea border.”
Mr Donaldson said words alone “don’t cut it”.
“I need action and that’s how I will judge what the Prime Minister does, not necessarily what he says,” he said.
“I will judge what the Government does, and I will look at the credibility of what that is and the impact it has in terms of removing that Irish Sea border.
“I haven’t seen the Government’s proposals, so I’m not in a position to say I would do a or b, but you will note that in the past we have been reasonable, we have taken proportionate action, we have sought to give time for negotiations, to bring forward outcomes. That hasn’t happened, and I think the time has come now for action.
“If the Government takes decisive action then, of course, we will consider what steps we can take.”
However, Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said parties do not need a “pep talk” from Mr Johnson.
Speaking in Dublin following a meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Ms O’Neill said 10 days after the Assembly election the DUP is “holding society to ransom”.
She said: “We have no desire for a pep talk from Boris Johnson, we want politics to work.
“I want to be in the Executive. I want to lead for the people, not least to respond to the cost-of-living crisis but what we have today are repeated approaches from Boris Johnson to say they are going to take unilateral action to disapply parts of the protocol, and that is just reckless and madness.
“I think all efforts and all attentions need to be turned to negotiated solutions, agreed solutions, find ways to smooth the implementation of the protocol because it is here to stay, and I think that’s an objective that both I and the Taoiseach share.”
Ms O’Neill claimed that the British prime minister and the Conservative Party are “shoring up the DUP’s bad behaviour”.
She said: “The DUP are holding the rest of society to ransom because of their actions, because they delivered us the hardest possible Brexit, so I think Boris Johnson, perhaps, is speaking out of two sides of his mouth – on one hand he is saying he wants politics to work, he wants the Executive to be formed, at the same time he is feeding the instability and economic uncertainty with his threats to go around the protocol.”
Meanwhile, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said she will urge Prime Minister Boris Johnson that those who are preventing the Stormont Assembly from working should not be able to draw a salary.
“That’s the most important thing at this juncture because I think people over the weekend have been genuinely angry at the thought that people who are blocking the restoration of the institutions, stopping the Assembly from sitting – which was never part of the DUP’s agenda during the election – are still able to turn up and still able to get paid. So, I will be telling him that very clearly,” she told the BBC.
Ms Long also contended she felt issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol are being “exaggerated both by the DUP and by the UK Government”.
She said the business community fears instability and uncertainty, adding “that will be what is created unless the EU agree mutually-agreed ways forward on the protocol”.
Ms Long said she will also tell the prime minister that the Stormont Assembly must be resurrected.
“Whatever about the protocol, things are not resolved in Northern Ireland by us sitting outside of government,” she said.