Britain is in the final stages of talks with Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party and is preparing proposals it hopes will convince them to return to devolved government, Britain’s Northern Ireland minister wrote on Saturday.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsed the executive more than 18 months ago in protest at the first post-Brexit deal with the European Union. They then rejected a fresh agreement, the so-called Windsor Framework, struck in February to end many of the new trade checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The British government subsequently pledged to introduce laws to further protect trade with Northern Ireland and placate the DUP, but has yet to publish any proposals and it is unclear how they would be compatible with the revised EU-UK trade deal.
“We are in the final stages of a period of constructive engagement with the DUP,” Heaton-Harris wrote in the News Letter, a traditionally unionist leaning newspaper.
“We are pulling together a comprehensive package of proposals that we hope will address their concerns.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told local radio station Cool FM on Friday that the two sides had made progress but gaps remain, particularly around the promised legislation.
A major part of the Windsor Framework will be implemented from Sunday, despite the DUP’s concerns, with the introduction of a “green lane” that removes the need for checks on goods imported from Britain that are staying in Northern Ireland.
That will mean some products on the shelves will instead carry “not for EU” labels, precluding them from being sold over the open border with Ireland.
Heaton-Harris said more than 1,600 new firms had registered under the new scheme that were not part of the existing post-Brexit scheme.