Johnson sends an ultimatum to the DUP : return to the Assembly or we won’t proceed with the Protocol bill. Is the threat credible?

Political gaming  has intensified as the Times and the FT report that the UK government will not proceed with the Protocol Bill unless the DUP promises to return to the Assembly. As the bill will at best take a year to pass Parliament are the DUP being invited to buy a pig in a poke? Can this ultimatum over ride the DUP’s demands for “action not words?.  Is the briefing to the papers credible anyway except as short term pressure that can be hastily withdrawn?

The Times

The Times understands that ministers will not proceed with the bill’s second reading until the Democratic Unionist Party formally commits itself to participating in the Northern Ireland executive and nominate a deputy first minister.

The demand comes amid concerns from ministers that a failure by the DUP to participate in power-sharing could undermine the government’s argument that the bill is critical to protecting the Good Friday agreement.

It comes on top of a demand that the DUP nominates a deputy first minister before the legislation is debated in the House of Lords where it is expected to meet fierce resistance.

Among those ministers who expressed concern at the DUP’s position at a cabinet meeting last week was Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary.

She warned that the legislation could make it harder to negotiate trade agreements unless the government could show tangible progress towards restoring power-sharing.

Normally a bill’s second reading takes place shortly after legislation is laid before MPs. But Downing Street has declined to give a date for the first parliamentary debate on the legislation.

So far the DUP has refused to make any formal commitment on re-entering power sharing, with the party’s leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, saying they had not “completed our initial assessment of the legislation”.

“We want to do that and then we’ll talk to the government

So far the DUP has refused to make any formal commitment on re-entering power sharing, with the party’s leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, saying they had not “completed our initial assessment of the legislation”.

“We want to do that and then we’ll talk to the government about where we go from here,” he said. “There’s a long way to go with this legislation. It will take months to pass through the Commons and the Lords.

 The FT’s report begins with a scathing assessment of foreign secretary Liz Truss’s tactics in proposing a very hard line bill approved by the ERG which even Johnson wanted watered down

Simon Hoare, Tory chair of the House of Commons Northern Ireland committee, told the Financial Times: “Truss realised she didn’t have the personality or skills to negotiate. She prefers the sledgehammer.

Truss said she spoke to all wings of the Tory party as she prepared the legislation but her critics claim the ERG, battle-hardened after years of Brexit skirmishes, were given special treatment. “By Sunday evening, the bill was on version 16(a),” Hoare said. “The ERG had seen all previous 16 versions, I had seen none.” Lord David Frost, former Brexit secretary, Martin Howe, a pro-Brexit lawyer, John Bew, an Ulsterman and adviser to Johnson, and Bernard Jenkin, a senior Tory MP, all played a key role in shaping the bill. But by the time Truss presented the latest draft to the “global Britain strategy” meeting of cabinet ministers last week, even Johnson chided his foreign secretary for giving too much ground to the ERG.

Others at the cabinet committee meeting pointed out that there was not even a commitment from the DUP that it would rejoin the Stormont assembly if the bill was published. “It was agreed there should be no second reading of the bill [its decisive House of Commons stage] until the DUP had given those assurances,” said one person briefed on the discussion. So far, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has to contend with hardliners within his own party, has not given such a promise. A second reading debate, which many Tory MPs had expected on Monday, is on hold. The ERG’s “star chamber” of lawyers is this week scouring the text to make sure it meets the group’s requirements on sovereignty. “If it doesn’t, we’ll vote against it,” said one Tory Brexiter MP.

Meanwhile, the One Nation group of moderate Tory MPs has — to the relief of Truss and Johnson — agreed not to vote down the legislation. “We’re not ‘happy’ exactly, but content for now,” said one member of the group, arguing the ERG had not secured everything it wanted.

So..   has the  Protocol  bill stalled  until the DUP moves? Or is the DUP being used as a pawn to halt the rush to a confrontation with the EU which the EU is prepared to meet?

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