Jeffrey Donaldson ‘hopeful’ of Northern Ireland protocol deal after crunch Brexit meeting with Rishi Sunak

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said progress has been made across a range of areas but further work is required before a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol is struck.

ishi Sunak is meeting party leaders at a hotel near Belfast before travelling to meet EU leaders in Germany.

His foreign secretary, James Cleverly, will be in Brussels on Friday to meet the European Commission.

Speaking after a meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, he said the negotiations should be led by getting it right and not by timelines.

“Clearly this is a big moment, the next generation of Northern Ireland and its people requires us all, I think, collectively to use our best efforts – particularly the Prime Minister and the European Commission president – to get these issues resolved and to get to a place where the political institutions can be restored,” he said.

“The decisions that will be taken by the Prime Minister and by the European Commission will either consign Northern Ireland to more division or they will clear a path towards healing and to the restoration of the political institutions.

“Over the last 48 hours we’ve been engaging with officials and met the Prime Minister last evening and this morning.

“We have not yet seen the final text of an agreement, clearly there will be further discussions between the UK Government and the European Union but I think it is safe to say that progress has been made across a range of areas, but there are still some areas where further work is required.”

Mr Donaldson added: “If and when a final agreement is reached, we will want to carefully consider the detail of that agreement and decide if the agreement does in fact meet our seven tests. We’ve been very clear with the Prime Minister that those seven tasks remain the basis upon which we will judge any agreement.

“I’ve indicated to the Prime Minister that it is fundamentally important that he agrees the right deal.

“I want to hear that Brussels will stretch itself to recognise the concerns that we have as unionists and that this process will correct the wrongs of the last negotiations.

“I do not believe that anyone should be led by a calendar. What is fundamentally and most important here is getting it right. That must be the ultimate goal. That is our goal. That’s what we’re committed to – getting this right and getting it done.

“We will keep working at this until we’ve got to the place where we can say that an outcome meets our seven tests and enables us to move towards the restoration of the political institutions here in Northern Ireland, which remains our objective.”

Mr Donaldson said he was “hopeful” an agreement between the EU and UK could be reached.

“I am not focused on timescales here, I am fundamentally focused on getting this right,” he said.

“It is absolutely crucial that this opportunity is taken, that the issues are grasped, that solutions are found that respect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market that enable us to continue trading with the European Union but that remove, in the context of our seven tests, the barriers to trade within the UK internal market, so that Northern Ireland can trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom.

“We need to see an agreement that delivers that, we’re hopeful that that can happen. But, in the end, we will wait to see the final text to make our judgments as to whether, in fact, that has been delivered.”

Sir Jeffrey said the Prime Minister had offered “some clarity” on some of the main issues up for negotiation with the EU.

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