British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Northern Irish political leaders at Hillsborough Castle in County Down yesterday in the aftermath of the Northern Ireland assembly’s elections three weeks ago. Sinn Féin, the republican party, became the largest party for the first time in history. The aim of this meeting with Boris Johnson was to encourage all parties to agree to form a government amid refusals from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to take their seats in the assembly in protest against the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit negotiations.
The DUP views the agreement, which places a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as a threat to the existence of the north. Signed by Boris Johnson in 2019, the protocol allows British goods tariff-free access to the European market as they had as a member state. If the UK government now tried to change some or all of the Northern Ireland protocol, the EU could potentially impose taxes and levies on British goods or even terminated the trade agreement entirely.
However, despite this risk and its consequences, the DUP has stood by its previous threat to refuse to nominate ministers to form a new executive until its concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol are resolved. Speaking to the media after his meeting with Boris Johnson yesterday, DUP leader, Sir Jeffery Donaldson, stated, “devolution must be built on stable foundations. These institutions only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve. Not one unionist MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] supports the protocol. That makes it impossible for power-sharing to operate”.
While Mary Lou McDonald - the leader of Sinn Féin in the republic – attended the meeting with Boris Johnson, the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, met with the Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Dublin yesterday. They concluded that while they agreed that there are “serious issues” regarding the execution of the protocol, they said the right place for the issues to be resolved was around the negotiating table with Europe, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, not through unilateral action by the UK.
Addressing the media with O’Neill, Martin also said he couldn’t understand why the DUP was obstructing the resumption of the Northern Ireland assembly. He said, “it seems to me to be very, very difficult to comprehend that in any jurisdiction in the modern world, where we have had an election, particularly in the European context, the idea that a parliament is prevented from convening is hard to comprehend”.
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