NI Protocol: Derry MP Colum Eastwood urges final push on agreement ahead of Maroš Šefčovič meeting

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has called for a final push to reach an agreement on the Protocol before Christmas.

By Brendan McDaid
Monday, 13th December 2021, 7:12 am

He was speaking ahead of a meeting with European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič today (Monday).

Mr Eastwood welcomed a recent shift in tone from the British side of the negotiations and said he believed the time was right to strike a deal.

He also condemned what he said were “the repeated threat to Stormont’s institutions” from DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson.

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Colum Eastwood

Mr Eastwood said the public were growing weary of the focus on the Protocol instead of other important issues and urged common sense to prevail.

The Foyle MP said: “There has been a marked shift in recent soundings from the British side of the negotiations on the Protocol. The previous disregard for the North and constant threats to trigger Article 16 has been replaced with a more realistic approach to what’s actually achievable in the negotiations.

“It’s no surprise the DUP have repeated their threat to the institutions at Stormont at this moment. We are still in the midst of a pandemic and doing everything we can to protect the public, to collapse the Assembly at this critical juncture in serve your own selfish party interests and popularity would be unforgiveable. Jeffrey Donaldson would be better served supporting the proposals put forward by the EU to address his concerns, rather than putting the very future of devolution at risk.

“People in the North aren’t worried about the oversight of the ECJ, they care about being able to secure a health appointment, huge housing waiting lists, being unable to afford a deposit, a crumbling education system and our failure to tackle the climate crisis. It’s long past time the British government acknowledged this.

“Throughout the negotiations the EU have conducted themselves with dignity and a spirit of generosity and it’s time there was reciprocation from the British side. We didn’t want Brexit, but the Protocol stands to protect the North from the worst affects that we have seen take hold in Britain and even offers unique economic benefits that businesses are already starting to see bear fruit.

“The Protocol isn’t going anywhere and I’m glad to see that penny has finally dropped for the British government. We have been sensitive to people’s concerns around identity issues and the small problems that exist with the Protocol, but the EU has offered practical solutions and it’s time they were grasped so we can put it behind us and begin to focus on the issues that are having a day to day impact on people’s lives.”

DUP Leader Mr Donaldson MP week called on Boris Johnson to “take urgent steps to remove the Irish Sea Border, in order to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland”.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, the DUP Leader told Mr Johnson that the Northern Ireland Executive was restored upon the basis of commitments given to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom’s Internal Market.

He said: “The Northern Ireland Executive was restored upon the basis of the New Decade, New Approach Agreement. Central to this Agreement was the clear and unambiguous commitment from the Government to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom’s Internal Market.

“The political institutions can only continue to operate if they command the necessary support in Northern Ireland. Without the support of a single unionist MLA or MP for the Protocol, the Government must take urgent steps to honour their commitment to remove the Irish Sea Border.

“The lack of progress in addressing and resolving this issue has led many to question the sustainability of the political institutions. It now falls to the Prime Minister to take decisive action to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland, based upon the commitments given in New Decade, New Approach.

“If the Prime Minister fails to act to safeguard the political institutions, then it will fall to my Party to take all steps necessary to bring this issue to a head.”