Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has threatened to withdraw from the power-sharing government in Stormont unless major changes to the terms of the UK-EU divorce agreement are made within a few weeks.
Delivering a speech in Belfast on Thursday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson called for the removal of most of the new trade barriers between the Northern Ireland (NI) and the rest of the UK (Scotland, England and Wales), which were introduced under the terms of NI’s “intolerable and unsustainable” protocol.
Acknowledging that the instability created by bringing down the devolved institutions would “not be good for unionism or Northern Ireland,” Donaldson warned that collapsing power-sharing would plunge the country into a “political and economic crisis.”
He stressed that collapsing power-sharing was not something he wanted, “but we simply cannot go on like this.”
“Within weeks it will be clear if there is the basis for the [Northern Ireland] Assembly and Executive to continue in this current mandate or whether there is a need for an Assembly election to refresh our mandate,” Donaldson said.
His warnings came on the wake of announcement by Brexit Minister David Frost that the UK would not “sweep away” the controversial arrangements, which involve checks on goods crossing into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
“Let me be clear: If the choice is ultimately between remaining in office or implementing the protocol in its present form, then the only option for any unionist minister would be to cease to hold such office,” added the leader of Northern Ireland's largest pro-British party.
Donaldson delivered his speech on the first day of European Commission Vice President Maros Sevkovic's two-day visit to Belfast to discuss how to mitigate the impact of the protocol.
Earlier last month, he had warned that the situation could not continue and making “decisions were imminent.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol is an integral part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement whose central aim is to maintain an open land border between British-controlled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so as to facilitate the free movement of goods.
However, the protocol, which came into force in January, has led to additional checks and delays on goods reaching the north of Ireland from Britain.