The chances of problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol being resolved before Stormont Assembly elections in May are “quite small”, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Sir Jeffrey said there was “very little progress” in ongoing discussions between the UK Government and the EU.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and foreign secretary Liz Truss met in London on Friday as part of their attempt to break the deadlock over the protocol and committed to intensive talks over coming days.
The DUP leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is very little progress in the talks, as we saw yesterday.
“I think that the likelihood at the moment of agreement being reached is actually quite small.
“That was confirmed to me by the Prime Minister.
“He doesn’t expect, unless something changes dramatically, that agreement will be reached this side of an election, to remove the Irish Sea border.
“I wish it were otherwise. I want to see the political institutions restored and operating fully restored — we’re committed to that.
“But we want to see Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market fully restored.”
Northern Ireland was plunged into fresh political upheaval recently when the DUP withdrew Paul Givan as first minister in protest at the deal.
The party said the protocol, which has created trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, had undermined a cornerstone of powersharing in the region — governance with the consent of both nationalists and unionists.
Boris Johnson signed the protocol with the EU as a measure to stop a hard border being erected, and jeopardising the peace process, on the island of Ireland.
But his Government is trying to renegotiate the deal, arguing that it is hampering the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland and damaging community relations.
Stormont Assembly elections are scheduled for May 5th, but in the meantime there is no functioning Executive.
Sir Jeffrey said political decisions continued to be made, adding: “The departmental ministers remain in place and are able to take decisions. The Assembly continues to meet and passes legislation.
“But obviously without an Executive being able to meet, without the North-South Ministerial Council being in place, there are certain decisions that can’t be taken.
“We entered government back at the beginning of 2020 following an agreement called New Decade, New Approach and in that agreement the UK Government gave a solemn commitment that it would protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market, that it would introduce measures to afford that protection.
“Over two years later it has not done so and we believe the UK Government has dishonoured the agreement that was the basis upon which the devolved institutions were restored in Northern Ireland, and frankly we feel that it is now time for the Government to follow through and honour that commitment.”