DUP meeting was not ‘make or break’ on Stormont return insists Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

A meeting of senior DUP members on Friday was not a “make or break” moment for deciding whether to return to Stormont, leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Sir Jeffrey said an agreement with the Government over post-Brexit trading arrangements, which would allow the powersharing institutions to be restored, has still not been reached.

Instead, he said that he will meet the Government again this week to address remaining concerns over the Windsor Framework.

Read more: Arlene Foster warns UK ‘bullying and blackmail do not work in Northern Ireland’

The devolved institutions at Stormont have been collapsed for almost two years as a result of the DUP protest against the post-Brexit trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Senior DUP figures held discussions on Friday amid mounting speculation the unionist party was preparing to make a call on whether or not to accept a Government deal.

However, the meeting concluded with the party saying that engagement with the Government would continue.

It is understood DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is facing significant opposition from some party officers on whether to accept the UK Government’s offer and return to Stormont.

Meanwhile, a loyalist activist group has launched a campaign calling on unionist politicians to remain out of Stormont until the Irish Sea trade border has been removed.

Let’s Talk Loyalism has created a letter template for voters to send to unionist elected representatives that to return to Stormont without such a commitment would be a “dishonourable act of treachery”.

In a statement, the group said its ‘Keep Your Word’ letter campaign was to “protest against those trying to force a betrayal and in resolute support of those who refuse to capitulate”.

Speaking to the media in Belfast on Monday, Sir Jeffrey said: “To date no agreement has been reached in our negotiations with the Government and there remains a number of important issues that have to be finalised if we are to see a restored Assembly and executive.

“To be clear, we want to see the re-establishment of the executive and Assembly and we’re working towards that objective.

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“The DUP wants to secure an agreement that provides the basis for the institutions to function with stability and in a way that is meaningful for everybody in Northern Ireland.

“Building sustainable foundations is vital to allowing Northern Ireland to move forward and to secure support from both unionists and nationalists.

“Factually, we have made further progress on many of these issues since Christmas and have worked constructively with the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) and his team on the issues which include matters relating to the Windsor Framework and those elements where we need to see significant improvements.”

The DUP leader said he would be meeting the Government again this week in an attempt to “close remaining gaps”.

He said: “We will not be giving a detailed and running commentary on our internal meetings and structures except to make clear that we are not negotiating with ourselves, as some have reported, we continue to negotiate with the Government.

“On Friday I provided our party officers with a detailed update on the contacts and discussions we have had with the Government and we are of the view that given the progress that has been further secured, that we will endeavour to close the remaining gaps between us.

“Together with some colleagues we will be meeting again early this week with the Government, engaging with the secretary of state and his team to discuss the state of play and ensure the remaining issues can be satisfactorily finalised, recognising the progress which has been made since Christmas.”

“I am very clear that we have made significant progress, but there are a number of outstanding issues that need to be finalised and this week my focus, along with my colleagues, will be on securing that progress so that we reach the moment where we can make a decision.

An empty Great Hall at Stormont(Image: Matt Mackey/PressEye)

“But we are not there yet.”

Sir Jeffrey was asked if he had been spooked by media coverage of his party meeting on Friday and speculation that it was a “make or break” moment.

He said: “Categorically not, I’m afraid the so-called senior DUP sources who made this claim are ill-informed, they are not people who are around the party officer table, they are not people who are privy to all of the detail that the party officers have been dealing with.

“None of this spooks me, fazes me. I am focused on the job I have to do.”

He added: “I am very clear that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland support Stormont, support our devolved government and want to see the institutions restored.

“But a key element of that restoration is that unionists, as well as nationalists, can support the basis for the restoration of our devolved institutions.

“That is what I am working to achieve.”

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