As an elected representative from Northern Ireland, I do not apologise for seeking the restoration of democratic decision-making to our Assembly, and wanting to correct the damage created by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Prime Minister said in the House on 27 February that: “There was a democratic deficit, given the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the Windsor Framework and the Stormont brake eliminate that democratic deficit and restore the appropriate and right sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland.”
He also said: “The Windsor Framework goes further still, by safeguarding sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland and eliminating the democratic deficit.”
In reality, however, these regulations do not address the totality of the democratic harm done by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Whilst the concept of the “brake” represents progress and acknowledges what we in the DUP have been saying about the democratic deficit caused by the Protocol in Northern Ireland, the “brake” does not deal with the fundamental issue – which is the imposition of existing EU law.
In our view, more is needed to strengthen the safeguards with respect to the position of Ministers on the UK-EU Joint Committee.
In the context of our ongoing concerns and the need to see further progress secured we voted against the draft statutory instrument.
The DUP will continue to constructively engage and work with the Government on all the outstanding issues relating to the Windsor Framework package. Our objective is to restore the delicate political balances within Northern Ireland and our place in the United Kingdom and its internal market.
The NI Protocol not only upset the political balances but has harmed relationships in Northern Ireland in a way that has set us back years.
Whilst some are focused on the approaching Easter timeline, our actions are rooted in the need to lay a foundation on which future generations can build and can enjoy stable government in Northern Ireland. There are some who are too focused on the last 25 years, rather than getting this right so the next 25 can lead to greater peace and prosperity.
Fundamentally, we need arrangements which unionists as well as nationalists can support, because progress has only ever been made in Northern Ireland when both sides move forward together.
Power-sharing is not about one side dominating the other or the views of one side being denigrated by the other. Power-sharing is about showing respect for each other and seeking to reach a consensus.
The Government publicly stated that they were prepared to give proper time and space to scrutinise and study the wider ramifications of the Windsor Framework package. Rushing this Statutory Instrument may well prove to be a misstep. These are seismic matters, and we should take the time to fully weigh them up and ensure we get them right.
The timing of this House of Commons vote, the indications as to how it will be interpreted and it coming in advance of the meeting on Friday morning of the UK EU Joint Committee does not lead to the view that time and space is being provided in relation to proper scrutiny and a full assessment of the Windsor Framework.
I acknowledge the engagement between the Government and my party on a number of the complex areas where we have been seeking clarification and change and where we have been highlighting broader concerns. I have consistently said that it was important to arrive at outcomes that are right for Northern Ireland rather than outcomes that are rushed and unsatisfactory.
The broad concept of the Northern Ireland Assembly having at its disposal meaningful democratic mechanisms is both fundamental to its future operation as well as vital for accountable democracy itself.
I want to see Stormont restored and Northern Ireland moving forward and flourishing as an integral part of this United Kingdom, but to achieve that outcome we will need to deal with the outstanding and fundamental issues that have been visited upon us by the Protocol.
For our part we will continue to work intensively to solve these issues, doing so in the knowledge that what has already been achieved has been because we were not prepared to accept the undermining of Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.