DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said he will “pause” his threat to bring down the NI Executive over the NI Protocol and wait to see if Foreign Secretary Liz Truss can negotiate a solution with the EU.
Writing in The Telegraph over the weekend in her first intervention as Boris Johnson’s new Brexit negotiator, Ms Truss said that Article 16 was “explicitly designed ... to ease acute problems because of the sensitivity of the issues at play” on the island of Ireland.
She was speaking ahead of her first face-to-face meeting with her EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic due to take place on Thursday.
Mr Donaldson said that he believed her words to be “a statement of intent from the UK government”.
“Obviously, we want to see those words matched by action and we hope that the talks will move forward quickly,” he said on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster on Monday morning.
“In the absence of such an agreement we welcome the reiteration of the government’s commitment that, if necessary, they will take unilateral action to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market by triggering article 16 of the protocol.”
He said that, on this occasion, Ms Truss has been “more specific” on the actions she would take with regards the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which Mr Donaldson said was “particularly welcome”.
“This is a key area for us,” he said.
“We have argued consistently that whilst we recognise that there needs to be checks on goods moving into the European Union there is no need for checks staying in the UK internal market moving between GB and NI.
“That is what’s been at the heart of our opposition to the protocol.”
In September, Sir Jeffrey warned the DUP could quit Stormont "within weeks" if there was no change to the protocol.
Since then, the UK and EU have engaged in talks but without a breakthrough.
He said on Monday that “we want these negotiations to succeed that is why I have paused the actions that I had proposed”.
“I feel that the fact there are negotiations taking place when the EU said that there would be no negotiations at all, that demonstrates that our strategy has been working.”
Mr Donaldson added that their position with regards to continued participation in the executive remains “on the table”.
“What I want is a solution, that is where my focus is,” he said.
“I have kept my nerve and kept my focus on what we need to achieve.
“Now we have a clear declaration by Liz Truss that she shares this objective, so that represents progress, but we now want to see that progress translated into action,” he added.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said it would be "irresponsible" for the DUP to quit Stormont and that her primary focus in the talks is to “make the protocol work.”
Also speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster on Monday, Ms McDonald said that “Brexit from the get-go was a very bad idea.”
“It has proven to cause great difficulties and the protocol is to mitigate the worst aspects of this for Ireland and for the all-Ireland economy,” she said.
“The protocol can work and the issues that have arisen can be addressed.
“The vast majority right across Ireland and the north of Ireland recognise the need for the protocol,” she added.
“I’d say to Jeffrey Donaldson that it’s time now for political unionism to work with the rest of us in the interest of everybody and that means making the protocol work.”
The foreign secretary is set to hold separate talks with Sinn Fein and the DUP later on Monday.