LONDON—Efforts by the British government to end political paralysis in Northern Ireland suffered a blow on Monday after the Democratic Unionist Party said it would reject a compromise agreement recently hammered out by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the European Union over the region’s trading status.
The so-called Windsor Framework is aimed at appeasing the DUP and other unionist communities in Northern Ireland who felt cut off from the rest of Britain after the country agreed as part of its 2019 Brexit divorce deal to place a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., rather than a border between the province and Ireland, which remains an EU member.
The U.K. government did that to avoid angering nationalists who want an eventual reunification of Ireland and possibly jeopardizing the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence. But the move essentially left Northern Ireland within the EU common market and subject to its trading rules—unlike the rest of the U.K. In protest, the DUP pulled out of a power-sharing assembly in the province that was a pillar of the peace deal.
Last month’s agreement—presented with great fanfare outside Windsor Castle by Mr. Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen—is aimed at finding a way to break the impasse. It agreed to forgo customs checks for goods entering Northern Ireland from the U.K. and give the Northern Irish assembly the power to ask London to veto any future rules imposed by the EU. It was also trumpeted as a symbol of Mr. Sunak’s desire to put to rest fraught relations with the trade bloc after Brexit.
The U.K.’s House of Commons is set to vote on the veto power part of the Windsor Framework on Wednesday. The DUP said that it would vote against the deal and requested further clarifications and changes to the Windsor Framework. “We will continue to work with the Government on all the outstanding issues relating to the Windsor Framework package to try to restore the delicate political balances within Northern Ireland and to seek to make further progress on all these matters,” the DUP said.
Despite opposition from the DUP, which has eight of parliament’s 650 members, the bill is expected to pass with support from the opposition Labour Party as well as moderates within Mr. Sunak’s Conservative Party. And the wider elements of the Windsor deal, which includes measures to slash EU checks on goods traveling within the U.K.’s own borders, can be introduced without DUP support.
But the vote will be a wider litmus test for how many of Mr. Sunak’s own Conservative lawmakers join the DUP to oppose the deal. Several Brexit-supporting Conservatives, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have called for a more far-reaching rewrite of the so-called Northern Irish protocol. The protocol was negotiated under Mr. Johnson’s government, which began trying to modify it months later.
The decision to reject the deal also means more political impasse in the province, in what analysts say is a concerning sign for political stability in the region. The U.K. government has repeatedly said it would force fresh elections in the region if the DUP doesn’t return but has so far delayed taking action. The next election could be held in January next year.
The DUP’s protest comes as the British, Northern Irish and Irish governments prepare next month to mark 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, bringing an end to decades of violence in the region. At the time, the DUP was the only major political party to oppose the Good Friday Agreement. Among those visiting Northern Ireland are President Biden.