Responding to a claim made by NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris – that negotiations with the DUP are in a “more positive space” – Carla Lockhart restated her party’s position, that there is still “no solid basis” for the restoration of powersharing.
Pressed at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on whether he was prepared to take action to end the stalemate if agreement with the DUP could not be reached, Mr Heaton-Harris said he was not minded to change the principle of consent enshrined in the Belfast Agreement.
The DUP has been blocking powersharing for more than a year in protest at the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s NI Protocol.
The party says the Windsor Framework deal struck by the EU and the UK to reform the protocol does not sufficiently address its concerns and has made clear it will not accept a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
Committee chair Simon Hoare asked the NI Secretary to provide a “robust and frank” update on the negotiations and if a deal was imminent.
Mr Heaton-Harris said his primary focus was to get the Stormont Executive back up and running.
He added: “We have had long and ongoing talks over the summer. They are in their final phases and in a much more positive space than they have been previously.”
However, Ms Lockhart said: “The party leader set out our position with great clarity at the party conference. There is no solid basis for an executive and assembly until we have arrangements that restore NI’s place in the UK internal market and our constitutional arrangements are respected.”
Ms Lockhart added: “We all want to see devolution restored and we are continuing to engage in discussions with the UK Government to try to bring about the fair and sustainable conditions that are necessary to get the assembly and executive functioning.”