Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit Northern Ireland next Monday in the midst of the political crisis in the British province after the historic triumph of the Catholics of Sinn Feinwhich last week were, for the first time, as the most voted force in the regional elections.
The formations were called yesterday to the Belfast Assembly for the start of the new legislature. But, as expected, the DUP protesters blocked the appointment of the speaker of the northern irish parliamentso political activity is suspended indefinitely.
Catholics and Protestants are forced to govern in coalition by the 1998 peace accords. However, the unionists of the DUP now refuse to form an Executive. They denounce feeling betrayed by Downing Street because Brexit has left the British province with a different status from the rest of the United Kingdom and they are not willing to unblock the situation until London changes the so-called Ireland Protocol.
It is a key piece of the Brexit agreement that provides for a series of safeguards and customs controls on the passage of goods from Great Britain to Belfast to avoid serious distortions in the single market and the customs union, since the Northern Irish remain in this community system despite the divorce with the bloc.
Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson stressed yesterday that he wants to send a “clear message” to both London and Brussels and noted that “it is now up to the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) to explain what he intends to do.”
For her part, for the vice president of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill, who claims her right to be chief minister, the DUP’s decision is “shameful” and implies a “punishment of the population”. “We should form an Executive that puts money in people’s pockets and starts to fix the health system,” she lamented.
Faced with this situation, the central government is now threatening to unilaterally break key parts of the Brexit agreement, hiding behind the protection of peace in Ulster. The State Attorney General, Suella Braverman, has given her approval for Downing Street to revoke fundamental parts of the so-called Ireland Protocol, defending that the interpretation that Brussels is now making of the new customs controls is “disproportionate and unreasonable”.
Everything indicates that next week the Johnson Executive – which has an absolute majority – will present a bill in the House of Commons to carry out its threats.
If the United Kingdom decided to act unilaterally, Brussels could impose tariffs on British products, which would threaten to start a trade war between both parties, and even completely suspend the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that sets the terms in which the United Kingdom United left the bloc.
The tension has reached such extremes that, in the coming days, the arrival of a delegation of influential representatives of the United States Congress is expected to hold a series of meetings in Brussels, Dublin, London and Belfast. In its day, Washington – where the Irish lobby is tremendously powerful – was very involved in the peace negotiations between Catholics and Protestants and now fears that everything will collapse.
Joe Biden has already warned that if London finally takes unilateral action it would be a provocation. The American president has always spoken proudly of his Irish roots and on more than one occasion has warned Downing Street that failure to comply with the Irish Protocol would have repercussions for a future trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States.