A ‘big step forward’ on a post-Brexit deal is required to avoid the long-term collapse of Stormont.
The UK Government believes a temporary agreement is the most likely option in the time allotted.
However, neither side appear ready to budge.
Brussels must make “a big step forward” on the Northern Ireland protocol within days to avoid a long-term collapse of Stormont, the UK government believes.
Last week, Paul Givan, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, resigned as part of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)’s protest against the post-Brexit arrangement.
Unionists argue the deal undermines Northern Ireland’s position in the UK and puts at risk the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement — through which a delicate power-sharing balance was struck and largely brought an end to the violence.
Givan’s move automatically removes Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill from her role as Deputy First Minister. The resignation came as the DUP ordered officials to halt checks on goods arriving from Great Britain.
That decision was later overruled by the courts.
Northern Ireland will hold elections on May 5, but a senior UK government source told Insider that without progress in the protocol negotiations, there was the possibility of another prolonged period in which Stormont is effectively shut down for business.
The source said: “If [the protocol] isn’t resolved by May 5, or if we aren’t on a substantial pathway to it being resolved, the DUP will not nominate a First Minister or Deputy First Minister, and that would put us in a very difficult place where we could have quite a long period without an executive.”
They added there would be “no negotiating between parties unless the DUP believe there is a big step forward”, adding it will lead to “big problems with the Good Friday Agreement”.
The UK Government believes a temporary agreement is the most likely option in the short term, with a joint committee meeting between the UK and EU expected to take place on the week of February 21 that could deliver a breakthrough.
Liz Truss, who has taken on responsibility for protocol negotiations as part of her brief as Foreign Secretary, is due to host European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic in London ahead of that.
The UK’s position has not changed since the command paper published last year, it is understood. However, the issue of governance has been kicked into the long grass in the hope progress can be made.
“Waiting until after May 5 makes it harder,” the source added. “I would hope, even if it’s a short-term temporary agreement, it is enough to see there is progress and for the DUP to nominate and take a step forward.”
But a former minister told Insider: “This government only listen to DUP, they don’t listen to anybody else – it’s really not great.”
The senior Conservative backbencher said that Boris Johnson should “show a bit of leadership” and claimed that in refusing to condemn the DUP’s move last week it was “damaging us on the world stage”.
“Are you children?” the MP added. “We signed this flaming thing, we have a duty to make sure it’s implemented.”
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