DUP will vote against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader - Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader - Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The DUP will vote against Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, the party’s leader said on Monday.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said DUP officials had “unanimously agreed that in the context of our ongoing concerns and the need to see further progress” that the party’s eight MPs would vote against the draft statutory instrument.

Wednesday’s vote is on the “Stormont brake”, which Mr Sunak said gave the UK a veto on new EU law applying to Northern Ireland.

However, Sir Jeffrey said: “Whilst representing real progress, the ‘brake’ does not deal with the fundamental issue, which is the imposition of EU law by the protocol.”

He repeated his demand for “clarification, re-working and change” to the agreement struck by Mr Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.

He said the DUP would continue to discuss the Windsor Framework with the Government, despite planning to vote against it.

The rejection of the deal will hurt Mr Sunak, who had hoped the DUP could be convinced to abstain if they would not back the agreement, and undermine the credibility of his agreement.

While the DUP’s rejection will not prevent the deal passing or being implemented, the party’s refusal to end its year-long boycott of Stormont over the Northern Ireland Protocol is embarrassing for the Prime Minister.

Sir Jeffrey added: “We will continue to work with the Government on all the outstanding issues relating to the Windsor Framework package to try to restore the delicate political balances within Northern Ireland and to seek to make further progress on all these matters.”

When he announced his deal, Mr Sunak claimed the Stormont brake would give the UK a “veto” on new EU law applying in Northern Ireland if 30 MLAs object to it.

But the brake can only be used under very strict conditions, and only on amendments and updates to existing EU laws, rather than entirely new legislation from Brussels.

The DUP decision comes hours after Ian Paisley Jr, the MP for North Antrim, confirmed he would be voting against the agreement.

He said the new Windsor Framework was “old substance dressed up in a new package with a ribbon around it” and did not “cut the mustard”.

“I am categorically voting against, and I would be surprised if my colleagues do not join me,” he told the Belfast News Letter newspaper.

The DUP walked out of the Northern Ireland Assembly because of its opposition to the protocol, which it said was driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It has maintained a year-long boycott of Stormont and vowed not to return to power sharing unless Mr Sunak’s new deal met its conditions.

“My initial reaction to the Windsor Framework was that I didn’t think it cut the mustard in terms of addressing our seven key tests,” said Mr Paisley said.

“After taking time to study it and at least one legal opinion on it, and going through the details, and also having conversations and messages back and forward to the Secretary of State, I am still of that opinion.”

“It is the old substance dressed up in a new package with a ribbon around it, but it hasn’t actually changed, or addressed the fundamental issue of Northern Ireland trade being disrupted in our internal UK market.”

Accepting a deal opposed by hardline unionists now would risk the DUP shedding support to the virulently anti-protocol Traditional Unionist Voice party in local elections in May.

The DUP’s decision could prove influential with Tory backbenchers in the European Research Group. Those MPs are expecting a report from their “star chamber” of experts on the new deal on Tuesday before deciding whether or not to rebel against Mr Sunak.

But the Government has warned the DUP, and Tory backbenchers in the European Research Group, that the deal will go ahead with or without their support. Labour has said it will support the new agreement, which is expected to pass easily.

Downing Street was reported to be confident that any rebellion will be containable and muster the support of a maximum of 20 MPs.

The Windsor Framework is an agreement over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed after Brexit to prevent the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland. It cuts the number of border checks needed on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland, which continues to follow hundreds of EU laws to avoid checks on the land border with the Republic.

“The deal is done and huge economic opportunities are before us,” said Sinn Fein's Michelle O’Neill, the First Minister-designate of Northern Ireland. “The onus is on the British and Irish governments and all parties – not least the DUP – to now get Stormont moving.”

One DUP MP told Politico: "The British government has jumped the gun. It’s announced a vote in parliament without consulting the unionists and allowing enough time for our legal opinion to be returned. So the government shouldn’t be surprised that we’re not going to be pushed into a decision.”