By David Young and Jonathan McCambridge, PA
The DUP has been urged to respond in an “openhearted” way to any deal struck by the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Peter Kyle, a member of the UK's main opposition Labour party and its spokesperson on Northern Ireland, made the appeal during a visit to Foyle Port in Derry, where he was joined by fellow Labour politicians David Lammy and Jenny Chapman.
Mr Kyle said he was “slightly disappointed” that a joint statement between the EU and UK on Monday about the protocol referred only to the continuation of scoping work, stating that people had been led to believe that there would be more positive news.
Devolution in Northern Ireland has been in flux since last February when the DUP, the region’s largest unionist party, withdrew its first minister from the ministerial executive in protest at the post-Brexit protocol.
The party has made it clear it will not allow a return to powersharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.
It claims the treaty has undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom by creating economic barriers on trade entering the region from Britain.
Asked what his message to the DUP was, Mr Kyle said: “I accept that they perceive an existential threat to their role in the UK posed by the protocol.
“The DUP are looking, like the rest of us to these negotiations.
“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he wants a negotiated way forward, well those negotiations are unfolding and could well deliver something in the hours and days ahead.
“When they do I hope that the DUP is given the space to study the deal and in return I hope they enter into those studies in a really openhearted way, and in a way which really engages with all the challenges in Northern Ireland.”
During the visit to Derry, the three Labour politicians met with local businesses at the port which handles 2 million tonnes of cargo a year.
Mr Kyle said: “The central message we have heard here is that we need progress.
“We need to make sure that diplomatically we can heal the relationship between the UK government and Ireland, that we can make sure our other allies, the EU and the US are all working together so that identity issues here in Northern Ireland, economic challenges posed by Brexit, can be diminished.
“I am convinced, and the Labour Party is convinced, that with solid negotiation using statecraft, diligence and graft, we can make huge strides.”
Responding to Monday’s joint statement from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and EC vice president Maros Sefcovic, Mr Kyle said: “I think we have all been led to believe that this week we would see more progress than currently we are.
“I understand that those involved in negotiations need all the space they can get to focus on those negotiations.
“I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more positive news coming out of immediate negotiations today.
“However, they are going to be talking in the days ahead.
“My concern is that we have a small window of opportunity to get a deal across the line, to make sure that the DUP and the unionist movement has time to see and study the deal and see it in action and then get our devolved authorities here in Northern Ireland up and running in time that we can then start to focus on the 25th anniversary, which is looming, for the Good Friday Agreement.
“We can’t let this slip through our fingers.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson reiterated on Monday, that he wanted to see Stormont restored, but said any deal on the protocol had to be acceptable to nationalists and unionists.
He said: “Far beyond the DUP, it is now accepted the protocol is unworkable and caused the collapse of the NI Executive.
“The protocol must be replaced with arrangements that restore our place in the UK.
“This is not a time for sticking plasters.
“It’s time for a serious negotiation which deals with the fundamental problem.”