Unionists block new Northern Ireland government over Brexit trade rules

Northern Ireland’s second political party on Friday blocked the formation of a working legislature in Belfast and said it would continue the boycott until the UK government overturns the post-Brexit trade rules it accuses of destabilizing the country. region.

The move by the Democratic Unionist Party exacerbates the political stalemate in Northern Ireland, which is fueling a feud between the UK and the EU that could turn into a trade war between Great Britain and the 27-nation European Union.

The DUP finished second in a Northern Ireland Assembly election last week which saw the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein win the most seats – the first time a party seeking union with the Republic of Ireland won an election in the bastion of Protestant power.

Under Northern Ireland’s mandatory power-sharing rules, this gives Sinn Fein the post of prime minister, with the DUP taking over the post of deputy prime minister. A government cannot be formed unless both roles are filled and the DUP says it will not participate unless border controls on goods moving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are scrapped.

It thwarted attempts to elect a speaker for the assembly when they first met on Friday, leaving the assembly unable to function.

“The DUP has received a mandate to remove the border with the Irish Sea and our mandate will receive respect,” Assemblyman Paul Givan told lawmakers. “Our message is now clear: it is time to act, words will no longer be enough”.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the party’s concerns about the new trade rules, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, “are not just a political dispute.”

“The protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have undergone every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years” of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, he said. “It erodes the very foundations on which devolution was built”.

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill accused the DUP of “shamefully holding the public hostage over the Brexit mess.”

Naomi Long, leader of the centrist Alliance Party, the third largest in the assembly, said it was “a shameful day for the DUP.”

“We want to serve the public, but we are prevented from doing so,” he said.

Explain the Brexit border agreement

The agreements for Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK that shares a land border with an EU nation – were the thorniest subject of the dispute in the UK’s divorce from the blockade, which became final at the time. end of 2020.

A deal has been agreed to keep the Irish border free from customs and other controls, because an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland. Instead, there are controls on some goods, such as meat and eggs, which enter Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The deal is opposed by the DUP and other Northern Ireland trade unionists, who say the new controls have created a barrier with the rest of the UK that is harming businesses and undermining the British identity of trade unionists.

Sinn Fein and the other nationalist and non-aligned parties, which collectively won the majority of votes in the elections, want to keep the Protocol.

Many people and businesses in Northern Ireland just want a functioning government.

“The inconvenient truth is that, as this continues, the reputational damage to Northern Ireland as a place to invest and work is growing every day,” said Paul Murnaghan, President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government says the political stalemate in Belfast is proof that the regulations – upon which it has accepted – are destabilizing the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, which is based on the support of both the Unionist Protestant community and of the nationalist Catholic one. The UK says it will act unilaterally to suspend some of the rules if the EU does not accept substantial changes.

Foreign Minister Liz Truss said the UK “will have no choice but to act” if the EU does not show sufficient “flexibility”. The UK could introduce legislation that gives it the power to cancel the treaty as soon as next week.

The EU accuses Johnson’s government of threatening to violate international law by violating a binding treaty.

“Don’t forget that this treaty was designed, ratified and agreed by the British government under this prime minister,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told the BBC. “He ran for election and got a huge mandate from the British people under that deal and now he’s blaming the deal for the problems in Northern Ireland.”

Amid growing signs that the UK is planning to cancel at least part of its Brexit divorce deal, Johnson Week sent a government minister, Conor Burns, to Washington to try to allay fears among US officials about potential risks to the peace in Northern Ireland. President Joe Biden has warned that neither side should do anything to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 agreement that laid the foundation for peace.