Government Collapse an ‘Inevitability’ If Northern Ireland Protocol Not Addressed, Says First Minister

By Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter focusing on UK news. Lily first joined the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times before turning her focus on the UK in 2020.
January 3, 2022Updated: January 3, 2022

It is an “inevitability” that the government in Northern Ireland will collapse again unless issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved, First Minister Paul Givan said on Monday.

The Protocol, a part of the UK’s Brexit deal, left Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market to avoid a hard border between the region and the Republic of Ireland, but it has effectively put a trade border in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Givan, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)-appointed first minister, said that while he is committed to Northern Ireland’s self-governance and wants the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly to work, the current situation is not “a tenable position.”

It “has been the success of the past” to bring the unionists and nationalists together into the government because “everybody has felt they can be part of this process,” Givan told the BBC’s “Talkback” programme, adding that “at the moment broad swathes of unionism don’t feel that and that’s not a tenable position.”

He said the situation creates “real challenges” for the sustainability of the government, which requires collective buy-in from everyone in the community.

On Sunday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told The Telegraph that unless British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss set a “clear timeline” of “real progress” or taking “the action that is necessary,” there will be “major implications for the stability of the political institutions in Northern Ireland.”

Givan said he understood that some people would disagree with those tactics, but insisted they are aimed at delivering sustainable institutions in Northern Ireland.

“I do want the institutions to be able to keep running, to focus on those issues that matter to everybody,” Givan said. “But I also accept that for any institution to operate effectively, its foundations need to be right, and at the moment, they’re not,” he said.

Truss took over Brexit negotiations just before Christmas after former Brexit minister David Frost resigned over disagreements with the government’s stance on lockdown restrictions, taxation, and regulation.

The European Commission has agreed to change its laws to ensure the free flow of medicines between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but wider protocol-related issues are yet to be resolved, including the European Court of Justice’s power to police the protocol.

Givan said the protocol has upset the balance in Northern Ireland, “in terms of a constitutional change without having got the consent of the public to do it.”

The last time power-sharing collapsed, in 2017, it was not restored for three years, in 2020.

Givan said he knows it’s “a lot harder” to put back together collapsing institutions, but argued things are “not sustainable in their current form either.”

“I think there is an inevitability about these institutions not being able to work if we don’t address the Protocol issues,” he said. “Because it doesn’t have the support of the Unionist community to do that.”

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, previously said the UK’s Brexit negotiator needs to “find solutions, work with the EU, make the protocol work, and provide that certainty and stability that is desperately required.”

PA contributed to this report.

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