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Northern Ireland

Donaldson confirms DUP will not nominate Speaker, leaving Stormont Assembly unable to function

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill has called the decision “shameful”.

THE NEW NORTHERN Ireland Assembly will meet later with the DUP set to block the election of a Speaker.

Ninety MLAs will gather in the chamber after last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly election saw Sinn Féin emerge as the largest party for the first time.

The DUP had previously indicated that it will not nominate for the position of deputy First Minister, which will prevent the forming of a new Executive, as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Unionists oppose the post-Brexit treaty because of the economic barriers it creates between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has now said his party will not back a Speaker, which will leave the Assembly unable to function.

Donaldson said in a statement: “Today the DUP will not support the election of a speaker in the Assembly.

“Some parties who just a few months ago were mocking the promise of decisive action from the DUP in relation to the Protocol are the very same parties now feigning surprise and outrage at a political party keeping its promise to the electorate.

“Devolution was restored on the basis of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement. We have seen delivery of, or significant progress towards, nearly every aspect of that document except one.

“That is the UK Government’s promise to legislate to respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

“Twenty-eight months since that promise was made and 16 months since it should have been delivered, unionists cannot stand accused of lacking patience.”

The DUP leader added: “I have both patience and resolve in equal measure to see the Irish Sea border removed and stable as well as sustainable devolution restored.

“Unionist concerns on the Northern Ireland Protocol are not merely some political squabble which is impacting upon Stormont.

The protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have underpinned every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years. It erodes the very foundations that devolution has been built upon.

MLAs will meet an noon where they will sign the register and designate as nationalist, unionist or other.

Donaldson will not be in the chamber as he has chosen to retain his position as an MP, despite being elected as an MLA for Lagan Valley a week ago.

Instead, former party MP Emma Little-Pengelly has been co-opted to replace her leader on the Stormont benches.

As the largest party, the new 27 Sinn Féin MLAs will take their position on the benches on the right-hand side of the Speaker’s chair for the first time.

It is entitled to nominate its Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill as First Minister, but she will not be able to take up the role without the DUP nominating a deputy First Minister.

Under the rules of the devolved power-sharing administration, both roles are equal and one cannot be in office without the other.

Since last week’s election, O’Neill has repeatedly called for the DUP to re-enter the Executive so it can begin to tackle challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis and spiralling hospital waiting lists.

In a tweet this morning, she said: “Today is the day we should be forming an Executive to put money in people’s 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,” she said.

The Stormont sitting comes amid increased tensions between the Westminster Government and the EU over the working of the protocol – which forms part of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK will have “no choice but to act” if the EU does not show enough “flexibility” over post-Brexit checks on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland.


Jacob Rees-Mogg this morning said the EU is trying to make the UK “feel bad” about Brexit through its approach to dealing with the Protocol.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has instead insisted that the UK Government would be acting in an “anti-democratic” way if it goes through with its threat to override elements of the post-Brexit treaty.

Government ministers have been increasingly hinting they could take unilateral action on the protocol, with Boris Johnson arguing the Good Friday Agreement is more important than the Protocol he signed up to.

European leaders have warned the UK not to make the incendiary move, amid fears it could provoke a trade war with Britain’s largest trading partner.

Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency told GB News: “I think it (the EU) wants to make the UK feel bad about having left the European Union and that underpins its whole policy and it doesn’t really mind about the consequences of that. And we just have to get on with life and recognise that we have left.

“We have to make our own way. We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary,” he said.

“The Paymaster General, Michael Ellis, has made a speech in Brussels today, making it very clear that we are, if not at the end of the road, very close to it.

“To cancel the TCA (EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement), the European Union would need unanimity, and it seems to me that’s a pretty high bar to get.

“And you have to say to the European Union, does it really want to punish its consumers at a time of rising inflation? And inflation in a lot of the EU countries is higher than it is in the UK.”

Rees-Mogg said the Protocol needs to be revised and that the treaty provides for its revision.

But Coveney said the EU wanted to implement the protocol with “flexibility and pragmatism” to take account of unionist concerns.

He told BBC Radio Four: “What is being looked for in Northern Ireland, from business people and many in the unionist community, what they want is to ensure that trade within the United Kingdom is facilitated and checks are removed when possible on goods that are staying in Northern Ireland.

“That is what the EU Commission wants to resolve but unfortunately they can’t do that if they don’t have a partner and there is a lot going on this week in the context of ratcheting up language, increasing tension unnecessarily between the UK and the EU.”

Asked what were the implications of the UK Government taking unilateral action on the protocol, Coveney added: “People across the United Kingdom need to understand what that means, it means that your Government is deliberately deciding to breach international law, which is something that every former prime minister still alive in Britain has warned against.

It means that the British Government would be deliberately acting in an anti-democratic way because 53 of the 90 MLAs elected to the Assembly in Northern Ireland are supportive of the Protocol.

He added: “Don’t forget this treaty was designed and ratified and agreed by the British Government under this Prime Minister.

“He stood for election and got a huge mandate from the British people on the back of that deal and now is blaming the deal for the problems in Northern Ireland.”

In an interview with Bloomberg, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the the protocol is causing economic and political harm and called on the EU to be flexible.

He said: “It’s a serious situation. It’s important to me that we also protect the Good Friday Agreement and we resume power-sharing in Northern Ireland.”

‘Painfully necessary’

The UK Attorney General has said that action over the Protocol is “painfully, apparently necessary”, in a major hint the Government will override parts of the post-Brexit agreement.

Suella Braverman, the Government’s chief legal adviser, did not deny the Times’ report that she believes overriding the Protocol would be legal because the EU’s implementation of it is “disproportionate and unreasonable”.

regional-cabinet-meeting-staffordshire British Attorney General Suella Braverman during a regional cabinet meeting in Stoke on Trent. PA PA

She told BBC’s Question Time she could not comment because of conventions binding the Government’s law officers, but suggested unilateral action could be required.

“The economy of Northern Ireland is worth less than 1% of the whole EU economy, but yet the number of checks that they are applying on the Irish Sea is totally out of proportion to that, and is disproportionately bigger than the number of checks they apply on the rest of their borders,” she said.

It doesn’t make sense, and therefore, I think it’s only right that we do take action.

“If this does actually go forward – because there’s a decision yet to be made, I have to be clear, and that is a decision for Government, Cabinet.

“But looking at the way things are at the moment, taking action to protect Northern Ireland and the integrity of the United Kingdom, taking action to remove the burdensome checks and bureaucracy on the border, which is causing traders to stop trading with Great Britain and in fact, move their trade to Northern Ireland.

“Taking action to try and re-establish the place of the Good Friday Agreement so that both communities feel part of Northern Ireland and the east-west connections are preserved just as strongly as north-south… that action is becoming painfully, apparently necessary.”

Jonathan Jones QC, who resigned as the head of the Government Legal Department in 2020 over a previous attempt to override the Protocol, warned the move could break international law.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “If that’s been proposed now then that’s seriously problematic, and it feels like a rerun of what happened two years ago when the Government was proposing to break international law.

“We know that the EU will be very cross if that happens and I think it’s understandable that they would be cross, because this would be a unilateral act and it would very severely damage the relationship we will continue to need with the EU post-Brexit.”

Meanwhile, David Frost, the architect of the 2019 withdrawal agreement that included the Protocol, was pressing for Johnson to tear up the deal on Northern Ireland despite the risks of a trade war with the EU.

He used his Daily Telegraph column to say ministers have “no option now other than to act unilaterally to disapply part or all of the Protocol”.

“We may, of course, face EU retaliation, though it would be disproportionate to the trade involved, only arguably legal and entirely self-defeating,” he wrote.

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