By Gráinne Ní Aodha and David Young, PA
Unionists will not be “bullied or cajoled” into returning to powersharing, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told the Northern Ireland Secretary.
In a letter sent to Chris Heaton-Harris, seen by the PA news agency, Sir Jeffrey said the UK Government should not be “expending energy targeting the DUP” and ought instead to work towards a solution on the Northern Ireland Protocol that both unionists and nationalists can support.
“There is no solid basis for an Executive and Assembly until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and our constitutional arrangements are respected,” Sir Jeffrey wrote.
The letter was sent to the Secretary of State on Friday and was later shared with DUP party members.
It also expresses confusion over how £600 in energy support payments have not been made to people in Northern Ireland.
Households in the region are due to be credited with a £400 payment automatically, to help with energy costs this winter as part of a UK-wide scheme.
In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said all households in Northern Ireland would receive an additional £200 payment, in recognition of the region’s dependence on home heating oil.
While consumers in the rest of the UK have already begun to receive energy support payments, householders in Northern Ireland continue to wait.
In an interview with PA, Mr Heaton-Harris said he believes householders in Northern Ireland would be receiving their payments if a powersharing executive was in place, arguing that the UK Government does not have the same relationships that Stormont ministers do.
Sir Jeffrey wrote on Friday: “Whilst I understand the steps you have taken with regard to MLA’s salaries, I do not understand why the Government has delayed the vital £600 energy support payments to people in Northern Ireland by making fundamental changes to the scheme in the mouth of Christmas.”
Mr Heaton-Harris confirmed a 27.5 per cent pay cut for Stormont Assembly members last week, which will come into force from January 1st.
Efforts to restore the Stormont Assembly and Executive have so far failed, with the DUP blocking the powersharing institutions in protest at the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Negotiations are continuing between the EU and UK to iron out the protocol which will ease trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to agri checks.
The protocol – post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland – was agreed to by the UK Government and the EU in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
If negotiations fail, the UK is expected to pass domestic legislation that will unilaterally override trading rules, a move which the EU has said would be in breach of international law.
Reports on Sunday indicate that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to put the Bill “on ice” until the new year, amid suggestions that a breakthrough on the protocol could be made by February.
Sir Jeffrey wrote in his letter that progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill at Westminster is “tediously slow”.