DUP agrees deal to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-UK party has agreed a deal to restore the power-sharing executive after nearly two years of political paralysis, its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said.

Speaking to reporters in the early hours of Tuesday after more than five hours of talks with party members, Donaldson said the Democratic Unionists would return to Stormont provided the UK government passed legislation to address its concerns.

The announcement came after a dramatic evening in which a prominent loyalist activist — who is not in the party but is opposed to a deal — posted what he said was a running commentary of an angry and chaotic meeting with details allegedly leaked by a participant.

Donaldson has been battling for months to secure a compromise deal that will placate party hardliners whose opposition to post-Brexit trading arrangements for the region triggered nearly two years of political stalemate in the region.

“Both our party officers and our party executive have mandated me to move forward . . . on the basis of the proposals brought forward by the government,” Donaldson said, referring to a deal struck with the government in London after months of bilateral talks.

But he added: “We will only be able to move after the government faithfully delivers on the implementation of its legal and other commitments.”

Donaldson has been seeking legislation to reinforce Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and ability to trade with Britain. He said he expected London to move quickly to table the legislation.

There was no immediate reaction from the UK government, but Chris Heaton-Harris, Northern Ireland secretary, and other political parties in the region have repeatedly urged the DUP to drop its boycott and return to Stormont to address a mounting crisis in local public finances and services.

London has promised a £3.3bn financial package for the region, contingent on Stormont’s return, as well as legislation to assuage the DUP’s concerns.

Arriving for the crunch meeting, Donaldson was met by about 40 protesters with placards including “Stop the DUP sellout”. Hardline loyalists from outside the party have also maintained pressure not to “surrender”.

About 40 protesters stood outside the Larchfield Estate where the DUP was holding a party meeting © Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Donaldson triggered the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing executive and assembly in February 2022 and has been boycotting it entirely since elections in May 2022, in which the DUP lost its long-dominant place as the region’s biggest party, coming second to the nationalist Sinn Féin.

Monday night’s marathon DUP meeting hinted at the depths of divisions between those prepared to back Donaldson and those implacably opposed to the Brexit trading rules.

The party’s more than 100-strong executive met at 7.30pm, but Donaldson only emerged to speak to the media hours later than expected, just before 1am.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, who posted on X what he said was a blow-by-blow description of the meeting leaked from inside the room, earlier described furious party figures barking, “Phones off!”, and scenes of what he said was “fury and mayhem”.

But the gathering at the Larchfield Estate near Hillsborough — a popular wedding venue — appeared to have reunited rather than estranged its members.

Once the UK legislation is passed, the plan would be for Stormont to be recalled and a speaker elected.

Despite the announcement, opponents said the deal brokered by Donaldson failed to meet the seven tests the DUP had itself set to judge any agreement. These included scrapping the customs border in the Irish Sea imposed after Brexit.

Brexit left Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, but the Windsor framework agreed between London and Brussels last year was intended to make trade flow more easily between the region and Britain.

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