The cabinet are reportedly split over whether to suspend Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the wake of Brexit by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods. Unionist groups have heavily criticized it for allegedly undermining Northern Ireland’s union with the rest UK, which is still outside of the EU customs bloc.
The issue has been discussed by Liz Truss, foreign secretary, who is more silent than Lord Frost (the erstwhile Brexit minister), but TelegraphNewspaper has claimedShe is the one who has been working on Article 16 to suspend the deal. The government may argue that the row is hindering Northern Irish politics and that suspending the deal will help preserve peace.
In Thursday’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein became the largest party for the first time in its history, with the Democratic Unionist Party coming runners up.
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Universities minister Michelle Donelan told Sky News this morning that the Protocol “is not working.”
She added that she “I believe[s]The election result reflected those concerns. We are working quickly to resolve this. Nothing is off the table.”
She once again confirmed that unilaterally scrapping the deal is “on the table” for ministers, but that their “first attempt here is to try and negotiate with the EU. We want to resolve this at pace.”
The talks between the UK and EU have been ongoing for months without any progress.
However Donelan stressed: “We are negotiating. We are working at pace.”
She also appeared to hint that efforts to negotiate could be ramped up following Thursday’s vote, stating: “And we will be over the coming days trying to rapidly find a solution, working with the EU.”
While Sinn Féin was once firmly opposed to the European Union, it is now in favour of keeping the Protocol the UK negotiated with the bloc in place.
However, the DUP’s refusal to govern unless the Protocol is scrapped means they may refuse to nominate a deputy first minister for the region, collapsing Stormont’s ability to form an executive.