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News Item: Unionist party to block restart of N.Ireland assembly

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is set to block the restart of the province’s new assembly when it meets on Friday as part of an ongoing protest against post-Brexit trade arrangements.

The pro-UK DUP, which came second in last week’s elections to the Stormont assembly, has said it will obstruct the selection of a speaker to the devolved legislature, effectively leaving it unable to function.

“Today the DUP will not support the election of a speaker in the Assembly,” the party’s leader Jeffrey Donaldson said in a statement, adding his party was “keeping its promise to the electorate”.

In its election campaign, the DUP said it would boycott the British province’s power-sharing government until post-Brexit trading arrangements, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, were addressed.

Signed as part the UK’s exit from the European Union, the protocol provides checks on goods heading to Northern Ireland from the British mainland and keeps the province mostly under European trading rules.

Unionist politicians have said by erecting a trade border in the Irish Sea, the protocol undermines Northern Ireland’s constitutional place in the UK and threatens the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

“The protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have underpinned every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years,” Donaldson added.

– Ransom –

In response, pro-Ireland Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill said the DUP was “disgracefully holding the public to ransom for their Brexit mess”.

O’Neill, whose party won the Stormont elections, would be set for nomination as the first nationalist leader in the province’s 101-year history were it not for the DUP boycott.

The standoff in Northern Ireland comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government looks set to take unilateral action to override parts the protocol with legislation next week, putting it on a collision course with the European Union.

According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, a US congressional delegation is set to arrive in Northern Ireland in a matter of days amid growing international concern over the impasse.

Writing in the Telegraph, Johnson’s former Brexit negotiator David Frost said that though the UK had been right to agree to the protocol in 2020, it “has no option now other than to act unilaterally to disapply part or all of the Protocol”.

“There is an imminent threat to our ability to govern Northern Ireland,” Frost added, calling possible EU retaliation on trade tariffs “disproportionate”.

Europe’s chief negotiator on the issue, Maros Sefcovic, on Thursday said unilateral action on the part of London to suspend the protocol “is simply not acceptable”.

“This would undermine trust between the EU and UK as well as compromise our ultimate objective – to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.

“Upholding the rule of law and living up to international obligations is a necessity,” he added.