The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has demanded legal reassurances from Rishi Sunak over the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland, describing it as “insufficient” in its current form.
Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said there are “key areas of concern” that require “clarification, reworking and change” and also demanded to see more legal text.
The Prime Minister has made clear the Windsor Framework deal will not be renegotiated with the EU but is currently walking a tightrope with Conservative arch-Brexiters and the DUP withholding support for the agreement.
The DUP’s backing is crucial as the party has been boycotting powersharing in Stormont over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland, and its support would likely dampen any rebellion from Tory MPs.
Sir Jeffrey’s comments come as a DUP legal panel continues to study the framework against its seven tests for a deal before reaching a conclusion.
They do not represent a major blow to Mr Sunak’s deal but highlight the task he faces in winning the unionists around.
The Prime Minister has made the deal’s so-called “Stormont brake”, which he said gives unionists an effective “veto” over EU law in Northern Ireland, the centrepiece of his deal.
But on a visit to Washington DC, Sir Jeffrey said the promises need to be backed by by law.
“We need to see the legislation, we need to ensure that what the Prime Minister is saying is translated into law and that the protection is robust and workable,” he said.
“What is in this Windsor Framework is insufficient.
“It does not meet all of our requirements, it does not go as far as we need, in terms of our tests and in terms of restoring fully Northern Ireland’s place within the internal market of the United Kingdom.”
Responding, Downing Street said the framework was the “best deal available” for Northern Ireland.
A No 10 spokesman said: “We have been engaging with the DUP and other groups on the Windsor Framework, and we stand ready to discuss any further questions.
“We have said we will let MPs have a say and we are committed to a vote on it in Parliament. But, ultimately, the Prime Minister thinks this is the best deal that is available to Northern Ireland.
“This is something that the Government has been working on for a long time. It fixes the problems that we know existed in the protocol and the impact it was having on people’s everyday lives in Northern Ireland.
“We think this is the right deal.”
It came as the cross-party Commons European Scrutiny Committee urged Mr Sunak to give MPs the opportunity for “meaningful input” over the deal or risk it being seen as a “fait accompli”.
Sir Bill Cash, the veteran Tory arch-Eurosceptic who chairs the committee, said: “Parliament should not be railroaded into a deal that it has not had sufficient time to come to an educated choice over whether to proceed or renegotiate”.