Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein won local elections in Northern Ireland in a “historic” election, with Michel O’Neill qualifying to become Prime Minister. But Mrs O’Neill’s rise to the post of prime minister seems a long way off, as she would need the DUP to form a coalition and get elected. But the DUP has said it has no intention of restoring power-sharing until the government addresses its concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol. Northern Ireland Secretary Brand Lewis accused the European Union of not playing its role in the negotiations.
Speaking to Sky News, Secretary Lewis lambasted: ‘It is really frustrating that the EU has not shown the flexibility we need to get this resolution.
“It’s more frustrating, I have to say, here in the last couple of days the EU seems to be saying they’re not willing to show any flexibility that we need to solve this problem.
“We think the right resolution is an agreement with the EU. We have always focused on that.
“That’s why we didn’t trigger Article 16.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol has been a sticking point in negotiations between the UK and the EU. In 2020, the two sides agreed to a protocol where a de facto customs border would be in place in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain – much to the annoyance of the DUP.
The protocol was designed to keep Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union and the UK out after Brexit. But now the Unionists (DUP) are threatening not to take part in government unless the protocol is scrapped or replaced, as they say the Irish Sea border endangers Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
READ MORE: DUP refuses Sinn Fein power until Brexit deal is resolved
Secretary Lewis continued: “I recognize the challenges of Northern Ireland protocol for people across trade unionism.
“But we have to be clear. The protocol that was designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement is what puts the most emphasis on him right now.
“And we cannot let this continue. We have to find a solution to this. We’ve always said: we’re not taking anything off the table. That hasn’t changed.
The Good Friday Agreement ended the unrest and brought peace after a 30-year political dispute, removing signs on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The EU and UK have made it their number one priority to keep this deal secure and the border open, as any physical infrastructure could lead to political instability.
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“The protocol is causing problems for people across Northern Ireland. It’s not just about Unionist parties or any party,” Secretary Lewis said.
“So it also affects communities in Northern Ireland and businesses, regardless of their voting intentions.
“And we have to solve this problem.”