After months of political deadlock in Northern Ireland, the situation has reached a crisis point on Thursday. The latest efforts to form an Assembly at Stormont have failed. Significant decisions on public services, including NHS waiting lists, are being kept on hold. Today, most of the 90 members were back in their debating chamber, but what happened only seemed to signal that a snap election is inevitable.
Sinn Fein got the most votes in last May’s election, but they can only get the Executive officially up and running with The Democratic Unionist Party’s involvement.
DUP has refused to elect a Speaker because it believes Northern Ireland’s place in the UK has been undermined by the post-Brexit deal signed by former PM Boris Johnson. DUP wants the UK government to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed with the EU and insists it will nominate ministers to the Assembly when that happens, despite the UK government setting a Thursday midnight deadline.
Business leaders say the political instability is damaging investments and job creation.
The Brexit agreement, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, sets out the trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At the moment, all goods being transported to Northern Ireland are subject to checks.
The key demand from the UK side is they want a loosening of checks on goods traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. They also want changes for tax arrangements and government support for businesses in Northern Ireland to be more in line with those in Great Britain.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverley spoke on Thursday to his EU counterparts. “The EU’s commitment to finding joint solutions remains unwavering. It’s the only way to ensure certainty and predictability in Northern Ireland,” said Maroš Šefcovic.
“The priority must be upholding the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and protecting political stability in Northern Ireland,” assured Cleverly.
The talks are ongoing, but if they fail, the UK Parliament will pass a law that will allow ministers to override key parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. President Joe Biden spoke openly against that happening. The EU believes this is illegal and has hinted they could introduce trade retaliation in response.
Rishi Sunak, in his first phone call with Biden said that he would be looking for a negotiated agreement.
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