DUP blocks new Northern Ireland Assembly over Brexit Protocol

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson brushed off criticism from rival politicial parties and said the DUP had a mandate to oppose the Protocol. - PA
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson brushed off criticism from rival politicial parties and said the DUP had a mandate to oppose the Protocol. - PA

The DUP will block the appointment of a speaker to the Stormont Assembly, which will stop it from working after recent elections, because of its opposition to the post Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Stormont’s other four major political parties attacked the DUP after its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he would prevent a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly unless Boris Johnson removed or replaced the treaty.

Sir Jeffrey said “I have both patience and resolve in equal measure to see the Irish Sea border removed and stable as well as sustainable devolution restored.”

The move came as Dublin warned the EU would have to retaliate if the Government carried out its threats to unilaterally override the Protocol, which created the Irish Sea border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Brussels told London it would not table fresh proposals for the Protocol after Liz Truss told the European Commission she would table legislation to override the border checks next week unless the EU caved.

The DUP leader has urged Boris Johnson to tear up the treaty and said he had a mandate from his voters to oppose the Protocol. He said London had promised to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market, which was undermined by the Protocol.

“Twenty-eight months since that promise was made and 16 months since it should have been delivered, unionists cannot stand accused of lacking patience,” Sir Jeffrey said as he branded the Protocol a “direct challenge” that eroded the foundations of devolution.

The DUP, the second largest party,m has already said it will not enter power-sharing or nominate a deputy first minister until the Protocol is tackled after it lost its majority to Sinn Fein for the first time in elections last week.

Under Stormont rules a Northern Ireland Executive can only be formed with the consent of the largest nationalist and unionist parties.

There can be no new speaker without cross-community support and the Assembly will not be able to function even if in a reduced caretaker capacity. The Belfast Telegraph reported that assembly members salaries would still be paid despite the stalemate and could reach £2.4m over the next six months.

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said, “Today is the day we should be forming an Executive to put money in peoples pockets and to start to fix our health service.

“The DUP have confirmed they will punish the public and not turn up. They are disgracefully holding the public to ransom for their Brexit mess. Shameful.”

“The DUP has said a major challenge to them is the protocol, we’re not in denial about that, we understand that but we also need to deal with the health service, we need to deal the cost of living crisis,” said Naomi Long, the leader of the cross-community Alliance, the third largest party.

Members of the assembly will meet at noon when they will also declare themselves as nationalist, unionist or other. Since devolution 22 years ago, Stormont has been mothballed five times and without a functioning government for 35 per cent of its existence.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, told the BBC a majority of people in Northern Ireland had voted for parties which supported the Protocol.

He said it would be anti-democratic if the UK was to break international law by reneging on the treaty and said Government explanations the move was to protect the Good Friday Agreement were “based on a false premise.”

He said it would put Ireland’s place in the EU’s Single Market at risk and make his country “collateral damage” of a decision made in Westminster, which was “not acceptable”.

“Ripping up the Protocol means that you are ripping up the protections for Ireland's north and south from the disruption of Brexit,” he said.

Mr Coveney attacked former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost for urging Boris Johnson to show the same courage he had over the war in Ukraine and tear up the Protocol.

“Comparing the war in Ukraine to the relationship between the UK and the EU on Brexit issues is extraordinary,” he said, “the damage that that's doing to Britain's reputation and Britain's relationships across the European Union is something that people need to understand.”

“Your government is deliberately deciding to breach international law, which is something that every former Prime Minister still alive in Britain has warned against,” he said.

Jacob Ress-Mogg told the BBC that he did not believe that the EU would carry out its ultimate threat of cancelling the free trade deal with Britain if the protocol was overriden by legislation or Article 16 of the Protocol

“Cutting off a major supplier is an act of self harm. Does the EU want to commit acts of self harm? It may do but I wouldn't have thought it likely,” he said after claiming there would not be the necessary unanimous support among EU members for the move.