Newsnight: John Major discusses the Northern Ireland Protocol
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Unionists are unhappy with the agreement which effectively sees Northern Ireland cut off from the rest of the UK by a pseudo-border created along the Irish Sea following Brexit. The agreement has led to protests, violence and threats against customs staff in Northern Ireland.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey said unionism is “rapidly losing faith” a negotiated solution to issues with the Protocol can be achieved as the UK and EU continue talks to resolve the highly sensitive issue.
Sir Jeffrey recently held a virtual meeting with EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic.
The DUP has repeatedly called for the ongoing Protocol to be scrapped, and for trade agreements to be suspended by triggering Article 16 of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Earlier this month, Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan resigned from his role in protest of the ongoing situation, which sparked the collapse of the power-sharing deal in Stormont.
In response, Sinn Fein has called for elections to resolve the situation, with polls showing the political party favourites to win and take the First Minister role.
The EU has also held talks with other major political parties from Northern Ireland.
Four of the five main Stormont parties also held talks with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney on Thursday.
Sir Jeffrey could not meet Mr Coveney in person in Belfast due to travel logistics but is expected to speak with him in the coming days.
Sir Jeffrey, who last year stopped his ministers from participating in cross border political meetings as part of his campaign against the Protocol, said it is the “greatest threat to progress and prosperity in Northern Ireland of our generation”.
He added: “The EU can no longer keep up the pretence the Protocol was about protecting the peace.
“The Irish Sea border does not have the support of a single unionist elected representative. It is divisive and undemocratic.
“It trashes the cross-community consent principle.
“The absence of a functioning Executive or North-South structures demonstrates the Protocol is an unrivalled danger to fairness and progress in Northern Ireland.
“Unionism is rapidly losing faith a negotiated solution is possible.
“It is time for the Government to take actions which restores fairness and reinstates Northern Ireland’s access to the UK internal market.
“This is the only way to build a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”
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Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill, who was automatically removed as deputy First Minister when Mr Givan quit, held talks with Mr Sefcovic and Mr Coveney on Thursday.
She said the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not support the triggering of Article 16.
Speaking of the views, Ms O’Neill said: “There’s no desire here on the part of the wider society around the triggering of Article 16.”
Ms O’Neill said her engagements with Mr Coveney and Mr Sefcovic were “very timely” in advance of next week’s joint committee meeting.
She ended: “We hope there are solutions to be found, if that’s the case remains to be seen.”
Sinn Fein is on course to become the largest party at Stormont after the May 5 Assembly elections, according to a new opinion poll.
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The Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool and The Irish News survey puts Sinn Fein at 23.2 percent of first preference votes among decided voters, well ahead of the DUP on 19.4 percent.
The poll also shows little more than one in 10 unionists regard the Northern Ireland Protocol as the most important issue in the election.
Just 6.7 percent of all respondents said the post-Brexit trade arrangements were their biggest concern, with unionists (11.7 percent) roughly four times more likely to regard it as the most important issue compared to nationalists (three percent).
The Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool study in conjunction with The Irish News was conducted by Social Market Research Belfast from a sample of 1,002 people between January 25 and February 7.
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