“As long as we don’t have a Prime Minister, the government is blocked. The budget cannot be voted, nothing is moving forward, which is not good for business,” deplores Julie Gibbons, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Newry, a town in Northern Ireland, located on the border with the Republic of Ireland. The euphoria that followed the election results on May 5 quickly subsided in the British province.
The question of the Northern Irish protocol
The Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont), which must appoint the Northern Irish executive and the Speaker of Parliament, was to meet this Friday, May 13. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in favor of union with the United Kingdom, came second behind Sinn Féin (pro-reunification with the Republic of Ireland) in the last legislative elections on 5th May. Its leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, has already indicated that he will not appoint a Deputy Prime Minister – essential to the functioning of the institutions, co-managed by Sinn Féin and the DUP – until the question of the Northern Irish protocol is settled.
→ ANALYSIS. The Northern Ireland protocol, criticized but destined to stay
Negotiated between London and Brussels, this protocol is intended both to avoid a physical border between the north and south of Ireland, following Brexit, and to protect the integrity of the single European market. The north of the island remains, because of the protocol, in the single market. Controls are therefore provided for goods crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain. This solution provoked the anger of the unionists, attached to the maintenance of the province in the United Kingdom.
The appointment of the President of the Assembly
“We will not be held hostage by the protocol”, replied the leader of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill, who is to occupy the post of Prime Minister. But the DUP chose to obstruct the process without saying whether or not it would participate in even the election of the Speaker of the Assembly, which requires the agreement of both parties. “By doing this, Jeffrey Donaldson is seeking assurances from London that he will act on the protocol,” explains John Downing, journalist at theIrish Independent.
→ PORTRAIT. Northern Ireland: Michelle O’Neill, the reassuring face of Sinn Féin
It is done, because the government of Boris Johnson warned Thursday, May 12 that he will not have “no choice but to act” unilaterally if the European Union does not show the “necessary flexibility” to ease post-Brexit customs provisions in Northern Ireland. And British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has warned European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic that she may suspend the requirement to check goods coming from Britain and destined for consumption in the province. .
Washington interferes in discussions
“It is very risky to block the appointment of the President of the Assembly, because everything is paralyzed in the province, the laws and the new budget will not be votedcomments John Downing. This decisionis not necessarily in the interest of the DUP. » The prospect of an institutional lockdown has drawn the ire of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, nurses and emergency personnel. Political instability, they denounce, endangers patients while the health system is on the verge of collapsing for lack of resources.
If no solution was found within the next six months, new elections would be organised. “And it is not certain that the DUP, which has already lost seats, will regain them. He might even lose more.” continues John Downing.
→ MAINTENANCE. After the elections, Northern Ireland “must reform its institutions”
Wishing to pose as an arbiter, Washington recognized the “challenges” posed by the protocol and required that all parties overcome the difficulties. On several occasions, Irish-born President Joe Biden has reiterated his commitment to peace in Northern Ireland and called for ensuring the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Washington could appoint a special envoy for Northern Ireland very soon, as has been the case in the past.