UK warns of snap election in Northern Ireland if DUP does not share power – POLITICO

DUBLIN — Britain’s new secretary for Northern Ireland has said he will have no choice but to call a snap election in Stormont next month if the Democratic Unionist Party continues to obstruct cross-community government in the region.

Speaking alongside the Irish Foreign Minister Simon CoveneyChris Heaton-Harris said time was running out quickly before he faced « a legal obligation » to set a date for a new Northern Ireland Assembly contest. Such an election could take place anytime between mid-December and the end of January, a window already explored by election officials.

Irish Republican party Sinn Féin overtook the DUP in the May election for seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The DUP has since used its retained status as the largest unionist party to prevent Stormont from electing an assembly speaker or new leaders for the previous five-party government – threatening the central institution created by the region’s peace settlement in 1998.

« I’m going to have to call an election on the 28the of October if there is no executive. It’s just a fact,” Heaton-Harris told reporters outside Hillsborough Castle, the royal estate near Belfast he now calls home.

The delay is implicit in UK legislation passed in February – days after the Democratic Unionist prime minister resigned in protest at the post-Brexit trade protocol for Northern Ireland. This treaty, agreed by the UK and the EU as part of the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement, requires EU checks on UK goods when they arrive at Northern Ireland ports, rather only when crossing the EU land border with the Republic of Ireland.

Westminster’s amended power-sharing rules gave Stormont up to 24 weeks after an election to form a new executive. While the move was aimed at avoiding any immediate crisis – previously Stormont had only a two-week window for government formation – the Democratic Unionists used the longer period simply to break the deadlock.

Asked if Britain could pass emergency legislation to postpone a snap election, Heaton-Harris appeared to rule it out.

“I don’t think we have time to do that in our parliamentary system. There will be elections on the 28the…,” he said, before correcting himself to say he should set the date for a Stormont vote that day.

The DUP insists it will continue to block the formation of a new Northern Ireland government until the UK unilaterally abandons its protocol treaty with the EU, a prospect contained in the draft of the Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol Act.

Responding to the Secretary of State’s comments on a possible early election, Democratic Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson called on the UK government to « speed up » passage of the bill.

« Those who seek to delay and derail the bill are only delaying the return of decentralization, » Donaldson said. « We have a mandate for our opposition to the protocol and it must be respected. »

But many lawmakers and analysts believe the DUP’s real problem is serving in any administration as a second banana to Sinn Féin.

A repeat of the May elections would give the DUP at least a chance to regain its lost status as the largest assembly party. The party at the top holds the post of prime minister and up to three other posts in the 10-member executive.

According to Stormont’s current arithmetic, the DUP must content itself with the role of deputy and risk losing at least one of the two most protocol-sensitive departments: agriculture and the economy.

The agriculture portfolio allows the DUP to block enforcement of EU-required checks on UK goods arriving at ports in Northern Ireland, the protocol’s main battleground. Over the past year, DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has used his office to block the recruitment of inspection staff and the building of border checkpoints. An EU audit found that this lack of resources made it impossible to control the flow of goods through ports.

Less noticed is DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons’ oversight of Northern Ireland’s foreign direct investment agency, Invest NI, which offers few positive protocol messages to potential investors in its pitch. of online sales. A Sinn Féin-led economy ministry is expected to tout Northern Ireland as a low-cost location for US companies to export barrier-free to the EU, a key advantage of the protocol.

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