The DUP has been accused of holding Northern Ireland to ransom over its demands for major reform of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Boris Johnson’s attempt to get the power-sharing executive at Stormont up and running ended in failure after talks in Belfast today (Monday) with the DUP demanding “action” instead of “words”.
Sinn Féin has accused Johnson of complicity with the DUP in obstructing devolved government in Northern Ireland with party president Mary Lou McDonald stating: “The British government is in a game of brinkmanship with the European institutions, indulging a section of political unionism which believes it can frustrate and hold society to ransom.”
DUP refusing while Johnson jeered
Hundreds of jeering protestors outside Hillsborough Castle held placards exclaiming ‘Back off Boris!’ as Johnson’s motorcade passed on its way to meetings with leaders of the five main parties in Northern Ireland.
The DUP is refusing to share power after being toppled in last week’s election as the biggest party in Stormont. Sinn Féin achieved a historic victory which should have seen its vice-president Michelle O’Neill confirmed as first minister on Friday with the DUP taking the joint/deputy-first minister role.
However, the DUP blocked the assembly from electing a speaker and forming an executive, and said changes have to be made to the Northern Ireland protocol before it will agree to share power.
Today (May 16), the DUP warned that Johnson’s plans to override the protocol with legislation may not be enough for it to agree to power-sharing with a Sinn Féin first minister.
The Telegraph reports the prime minister is expected push through legislation that will allow the UK to unilaterally suspend parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to post-Brexit east-west (GB-NI) trade rules.
“But crucially,” the paper states, “the UK is not expected to publish in full legislation being prepared or lay it before Parliament, which would kick-start the process of getting it passed into law.”
DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said after today’s talks with Johnson: “I don’t see much point of having legislation if you’re not going to table it. Legislation only becomes law when it is enacted by Parliament.”
Donaldson went further, dismissing “the tabling of legislation” as just “words”, adding: “What I need is decisive action. And that means I want to see the Government enacting legislation that will bring the solution that we need.”
Fears are mounting that the DUP will only change its position once any legislation has been enacted. This could take at least a year, thereby leaving Northern Ireland without an executive or functioning parliament.
Health bodies, organisations and experts last week issued a statement warning that delays in getting the executive up and running could lead to deaths given the health service is close to collapse.
DUP – ‘once bitten, twice shy’
A “source familiar with the DUP leadership’s thinking”, reminded that Johnson promised in the run-up to the December 2019 general election that there would not be a border in the Irish Sea. The source told the Telegraph: “If the Government thinks that by saying they’re going to publish something that will resolve the problems in Northern Ireland, then no they won’t. That is not going to cut it for people.
“Boris has already made commitments and hasn’t delivered them. Most people will say: ‘Sorry, we’ve been here before. Once bitten, twice shy.’”
The DUP’s intransigence was underlined by its former leader, Lord Nigel Dodds, who said: “The mood within Unionism is very clear now. It’s either the Protocol or it’s the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement – you can’t have both.”
After today’s meetings, Johnson said all five main parties want the protocol reformed and confirmed he backs plans by Liz Truss, the foreign secretary to find a legislative solution.
“We don’t want to scrap it but we think it can be fixed,” said Johnson. “And actually, five of the five parties I talked to today also think it needs reform.”
Truss is expected to announce the legislation in the Commons tomorrow (Tuesday) – subject to getting Cabinet approval.