UK minister says talks to restore N.Ireland government moving slowly

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s Northern Ireland minister said on Tuesday talks to restore the province’s devolved government were moving slowly because there was a lack of clarity on the right legislative approach to end the impasse.

Northern Ireland’s devolved executive collapsed in February last year when the Democratic Unionist Party pulled out in protest at Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union. They then also rejected a revised deal, the Windsor Framework, reached last February.

The British government is in talks with the DUP on restoring the power-sharing system but Northern Ireland minister Chris Heaton-Harris declined to be drawn on the details of how those talks were going.

“I would love to move a lot quicker than we are, but it is inch by inch,” he said at an event in London.

London has pledged to introduce laws to protect post-Brexit trade between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom mainland, but it is unclear what is needed to satisfy the DUP and whether the legislation would be compatible with the revised EU-UK trade deal.

Heaton-Harris said the DUP needed to be given assurance “somehow in legislative terms – yet to be defined how, on either side” that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until its people decided otherwise, as per the 1998 Belfast Good Friday peace accord.

Speaking separately in Dublin, U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy said that while there is real interest from U.S. companies to invest in Northern Ireland, they want to see how that Windsor Framework is implemented.

Kennedy said prospective investors want some clarity in particular on how Northern Irish lawmakers choose to use a potential veto on new EU laws affecting the British province, which borders on EU member state Ireland.

The Windsor Framework introduced a new mechanism called the “Stormont brake” that will allow London to stop the application of EU laws on goods in Northern Ireland if requested by a third of the region’s lawmakers.

Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has effectively remained in the EU’s single market since Brexit to ensure its land border with Ireland remains open, a key aspect of the 1998 Good Friday deal that ended decades of sectarian bloodshed.

The DUP would have to end its boycott and the regional assembly sit for a period of time to understand how the brake would work in practice.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout and Padraic Halpin; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mark Heinrich)