UUP leader Doug Beattie says his party will return to Executive but protocol concerns remain
'The DUP and Sinn Fein, if they go into the Executive, they'll have a title but they'll be exactly the same'
UUP leader Doug Beattie said the naming of Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill as first minister does not prevent his party from going back into the Executive.
Speaking to the BBC's Nolan radio programme, Mr Beattie said his party first needs to understand what is being offered in the programme for government before making a decision.
He's expected to meet Secretary of State Brandon Lewis on Monday as newly-elected MLAs gather at Stormont. Mr Lewis has however signalled he would take a back seat amidst a looming political crisis at Stormont.
The DUP has indicated that the party won’t nominate a Deputy First Minister to serve alongside Michelle O’Neill while the Protocol issue remains unaddressed.
But Mr Beattie said: "The DUP and Sinn Fein, if they go into the Executive, they'll have a title but they'll be exactly the same. Nothing has literally changed here. We need to understand what we're going to have from a programme of government.
"We are still working to get the Executive up and running again, we need the Executive up and running despite our differences, in order to provide for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.
Mr Beattie went on: "If we have what we need to be able to help the people of Northern Ireland, we will serve to do that. If we do not, then opposition is the place that we will be. We need to have a forward-looking programme for government that gives us a vision not just for five years but for 10 or 15, twenty years.
"The whole issue is the protocol, do we go into government if the protocol hasn't been sorted – the protocol needs to be sorted -we have been saying this since 2019. But that will be done through negotiation between the UK and EU.
"Therefore Northern Ireland has to have a say in that. We'll only have a say if we have a government.”
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