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March deadline for NI protocol resolution, PM tells DUP as Paisley says 'be the unionist we need'

Northern Ireland people 'feel like foreigners in our own country,' says MP

The Prime Minister has given a March deadline for a resolution to the NI Protocol issues, the DUP has said.

The party held a virtual meeting with the Prime Minister on Wednesday and is to later meet with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic along with Sinn Fein and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

It comes after the controversial events of last Friday, when the European Commission was forced to backtrack on a threat to suspend part of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent Covid vaccines crossing the border.

There have been issues with goods crossing the Irish Sea since January when the EU and UK severed all ties. DUP MP Ian Paisley said it made people feel like foreigners in their own land.

He pressed the Prime Minister to take action, during PMQs.

"Tea and sympathy will not cut the mustard," he said.

"Will he be a man of his word and allow businessmen in my constituency to bin the unnecessary documentation that he told us we could bin?

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"Prime Minister, be the unionist we need you to be."

Mr Johnson said he shared his frustrations and would do anything required.

"The honourable gentleman's business constituents, some of whom I know very well and admire very much, can continue to do business unfettered between Northern Ireland and the rest of this country," he added

In a statement, the DUP said Arlene Foster set out in stark terms the damage the protocol was having on trade between GB to NI as well as the impact of the EU's intention to invoke article 16 in her meeting with Boris Johnson.

"We pressed the Prime Minister to set out what he was now going to do to deal with the unfolding situation," the statement said.

"The Prime Minister indicated that he was deeply shocked 'by the cavalier approach adopted by the EU' last Friday and without consultation. He recognised that such actions by the EU undermines the authority of the protocol. Again it was made clear to him that the protocol is without support within the unionist community."

"The Prime Minister said there was a duty under the Belfast Agreement to sort these matters out, that we could not have a situation within the United Kingdom where there were barriers to movement across a range of areas including plants, seed potatoes and British beef and that it was plain the protocol was being used in an absurd way.

"The Prime Minister said what the EU was doing 'goes beyond the bounds of common sense'. The DUP again made clear that this the reality of what was agreed by the UK and EU."

The DUP said the Prime Minister had vowed to use all the instruments at his disposal and again indicated he was prepared to use Article 16 "to get things done and to legislate if necessary".

"The Prime Minister has said that his timetable for getting all these matters sorted is the end of March," the party added.

"For our part we have been clear to the Prime Minister that the people and businesses of Northern Ireland cannot continue to be subjected to the undermining of Northern Ireland’s place with the UK internal market as a consequence of the protectionist attitude of the European Union.

"We want to see permanent solutions developed and barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland lifted. Sticking plaster solutions and grace periods that kick the can down the road will not solve these problems.

"It is now up to the Prime Minister to back up his words with tangible actions that protect the integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom.

"We will continue to engage with the UK Government on all these issues but have underlined that long-term workable solutions will need to be found quickly because Northern Ireland needs to be free of this protocol."

Tensions have been heightened following the controversial events of last Friday.

The botched move by the EU would have struck at the heart of the NI Protocol's main function - to facilitate a free-flowing Irish border - by placing restrictions on vaccines moving into Northern Ireland from the bloc.

While the EU stepped back from the brink, after an evening of frantic diplomacy, the episode further angered loyalists and unionists and emboldened them to press their demands for an end to the protocol.

On Tuesday, the DUP announced a series of political moves aimed at frustrating the operation of the protocol amid mounting unionist and loyalist concerns that Northern Ireland's place within the UK is being undermined.

Its strategy includes opposing any protocol-related legislation at the Stormont Assembly and refusing to participate in any exchanges with the Irish Government related to the operation of the protocol.

Physical inspections on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, which are required under the protocol, have been suspended amid threats and intimidation of staff.

Police have insisted there is no evidence that loyalist paramilitaries are involved in the sinister campaign, instead blaming disgruntled individuals and small groups.

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