British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to travel to Belfast on May 16 amid the ongoing political stalemate over the Northern Ireland protocol.

As the months-long dispute over the Brexit-related protocol led to the collapse of the Northern Irish executive and the paralysis of its legislature, Downing Street said Johnson would hold a series of private meetings with local parties and would urge lawmakers to “get back to work on fixing the bread and butter issues.

The spokesman also said the UK government would “play its part to ensure political stability”.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the UK’s Brexit deal which leaves Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market and customs union. It was created to avoid a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as a visible border would risk angering Irish nationalists and resurrecting sectarian violence.

But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to accept the protocol, arguing that controls on goods in the Irish Sea have created an economic and political barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

In protest against the protocol, the DUP withdrew from the executive in February. This decision effectively collapsed the institution as the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement stipulated that the largest unionist and nationalist parties could not form a government without each other.

The DUP also refused to appoint a speaker on May 13, rendering the newly elected Northern Ireland Assembly – the region’s legislature – non-functional.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson with party colleagues speaking on the podium in the Great Hall of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 13, 2022. (Liam McBurney/PA Media)

Justifying the move, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was sending “a very clear message” to the EU and the UK government that they needed to “fix” the protocol, insisting that agreements traders had undermined the terms of the Friday Bon Accord.

Johnson said on May 12 that the UK government needed to “fix” the protocol because it led to a “real, real problem” in Northern Ireland.

Johnson’s comment came amid growing speculation he could override aspects of the protocol through national legislation – a tactic the EU has warned against.

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of the nationalist Sinn Féin party, accused the UK government of being “in cahoots with the DUP to block and delay progress, to thwart the will of the people as expressed in the election”.

Sinn Féin, a democratic socialist party which has said its “main political aim” is to have a united Ireland, supplanted the DUP to become Stormont’s largest party by two seats in the May 5 election.

Epoch Times Photo
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the media outside the Communications Workers Union headquarters in Dublin on May 14, 2022. (Sam Boal/PA Media)

“And the UK government has helped the DUP in these blocking tactics and they must refrain and certainly when we meet Boris Johnson on Monday we will make that very clear to him,” McDonald told reporters on May 14.

The Republican leader said the protocol is ‘a necessary Brexit outcome that the Conservative Party and the DUP campaigned for’ and ‘is not going anywhere’.

But Suella Braverman, Attorney General for England and Wales and Solicitor General for Northern Ireland, said on May 12 that it had become “painfully, apparently necessary” for the UK to take action on the protocol. as the EU conducted a disproportionate number of checks in the Irish Sea.

There are also warnings of the risk of a trade war with the EU if the UK changes the deal, with EU leaders warning of retaliatory measures.

Speaking to Sky News on May 15, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the UK government’s “No. Number one priority” is political stability in Northern Ireland and it would take “a very long time” for any new EU tariff is approved.

He said Article 16 of the Brexit deal is “enshrined” and “allows people to act unilaterally” to suspend parts of the deal and that the UK must “ultimately be ready to invoke him”.

Lily Zhou

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Lily Zhou is a freelance writer who primarily covers UK news for The Epoch Times.

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