Outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots has said that he has received a personal assurance from the UK Government that significant changes will be made to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Poots, who was forced to announce his resignation as leader last week following an internal party revolt over his decision to proceed with nominating a Stormont First Minister, predicted there would be a “significant victory” on the protocol in July.
The UK Government and the EU are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.
Under the terms of the deal, deliveries of chilled meats – including sausages and burgers – could be effectively banned from crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland at the end of the month.
The UK is considering unilaterally extending the grace period covering sausage shipments, something that Brussels has warned could trigger a retaliation.
But unionists are opposed to the protocol and have repeatedly called for it to be scrapped.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Poots said he proceeded with the appointment of Paul Givan as First Minister last week, because he believed he could oppose the protocol more effectively with a functioning Assembly.
He said: “My focus is on the Northern Ireland Protocol because that is what makes a constitutional difference to Northern Ireland.
“Yes, I have received assurances that there will be changes to the protocol and that that will be very significant, that the UK Government are not going to tolerate how things are and how the EU have conducted themselves since the protocol.”
When asked if he had received the assurances personally, Mr Poots said: “Yes.”
He added: “We are looking to these changes happening in July, most likely early July.
“We believe that there is a significant victory to be won on the protocol. I will hand over at the end of June (to the new DUP leader) and hopefully most of the work will actually be achieved by that stage and we can make those gains.”
When asked what was the nature of the changes he had been promised, Mr Poots said: “We haven’t got detail but fundamentally for me the issues that really need to be resolved are the issues around the constitution because UK lawyers argued that the Act of Union was seceded by the Withdrawal Act.
“I want a very clear statement from the UK Government that that is not the case. The democratic deficit, nowhere else in the world are laws being made by 25 or 26 other countries for a country who has no say in those laws.
“How ridiculous is that, that people are signing up to an agreement which doesn’t have democracy contained in it? And then we have all of the trading issues of course, which have been highlighted over and over again. My ultimate desire is that the protocol goes in its entirety.
“We have been promised there will be a significant win on the protocol, that is what the Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis) is indicating at this stage.”
In response, Sinn Fein north Belfast MP John Finucane said Mr Poots had not provided any detail of the proposed changes he had been promised.
“I would be very reluctant to take what Edwin Poots has said today, I think I would want to see the detail because ultimately these are conversations between the British Government and the European Union.
“It is not within the Secretary of State’s gift as to what he does with the protocol – it is an agreement his Government entered into with the European Union.”