DUP will not be bullied or persuaded to reinstate Stormont, the minister said

Unionists will not be “bullied or persuaded” to return to power-sharing, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told the Northern Ireland secretary.

In a letter to Chris Heaton-Harris, seen by the PA news agency, Sir Jeffrey said the British government “should put no energy into targeting the DUP” and should instead work towards a solution to the North Irish Protocol that both trade unionists and nationalists can support.

“There is no solid foundation for an Executive and Assembly until protocol is replaced by arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK single market and our constitutional arrangements are respected,” wrote Sir Jeffrey.

The letter was sent to the Secretary of State on Friday and later shared with DUP party members.

It also expresses confusion that £600 in energy aid payments have not been made to people in Northern Ireland.

Households in the region will receive an automatic payment of £400 to help with energy costs this winter as part of a UK scheme.

In his autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said all households in Northern Ireland would receive an additional payment of £200, in recognition of the region’s dependence on domestic heating oil.

While consumers in the rest of the UK have already started receiving energy support, households in Northern Ireland continue to wait.

In an interview with PA, Mr Heaton-Harris said he believes households in Northern Ireland would receive their payments if there was an executive, arguing that the UK government does not have the same relationships as Stormont ministers.

Sir Jeffrey wrote on Friday: “While I understand the steps you have taken regarding MLA salaries, I fail to understand why the government has delayed vital £600 energy aid payments to people in Northern Ireland by making fundamental changes to the arrangement in the mouth of Christmas.”

Mr Heaton-Harris last week confirmed a 27.5% pay cut for members of the Stormont Assembly, which takes effect on 1 January.

Attempts to restore Stormont’s Assembly and Executive have so far failed, with the DUP blocking power-sharing institutions in protest at the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Negotiations between the EU and the UK continue to smooth out the protocol that will facilitate trade from Britain to Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to agricultural controls.

The protocol – post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland – has been agreed by the UK government and the EU to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

If the negotiations fail, the UK is expected to pass national legislation that will unilaterally override trade rules, a move the EU says would violate international law.

Reports on Sunday indicate that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will put the bill “on ice” until the new year, amid suggestions there could be a breakthrough in the protocol by February.

Sir Jeffrey wrote in his letter that progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill at Westminster is “annoyingly slow”.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said: “There is a legitimate and deep concern about the functioning of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This is being felt throughout Northern Ireland.

“But above all, what people want to see – and what they deserve – is a way through the current political deadlock, with decentralized institutions getting back to work in line with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

“That is why we have briefly extended the period for the formation of the executive branch, to create the time and space needed to develop talks between the UK and the EU and to allow the Northern Ireland parties to work together to restore defocused settings as soon as possible.”

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