Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he will “continue to press the EU” to agree on changes needed to persuade the unionist DUP party to agree to power share in a new executive
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Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has urged the five main party leaders to form an executive “as soon as possible”.
Mr Lewis spoke separately with leaders including Sinn Féin’s deputy president Michelle O’Neill, and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the unionist DUP party, stressing the importance of maintaining peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
The Tory minister encouraged them all to “come together and agree on a way forward” in order to deliver a stable government.
It comes amid rising fears of political instability and potentially civil unrest amid rumours the newly elected Stormont assembly could be put on pause until Christmas.
Sinn Féin became the largest party in the devolved government for the first time over the weekend.
It means they are entitled to the role of first minister but only if the DUP will nominate a deputy first minister.
The unionist DUP has ruled out doing so unless No10 makes major changes to the Northern Ireland protocol set out in Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit deal.
Speaking after his meetings, Mr Lewis said: “The current situation with the Protocol is fundamentally undermining the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and creating an unacceptable situation in Northern Ireland.
“We will continue to press the EU to agree to the crucial changes that are urgently needed but will take nothing off the table in our pursuit of those solutions.
“As I conveyed to party leaders today, our collective focus must be on the restoration of the Stormont institutions so that those newly elected representatives can come together and deliver in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.”
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Sir Jeffrey said that he will not lead the DUP back into power sharing until issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.
He told reporters in Stormont: “The Government gave a firm commitment to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market. Two and a half years later they have done nothing to honour that commitment. I am holding them to that commitment. Tomorrow I will be holding the Prime Minister to that commitment.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said, if the Northern Ireland Protocol was the obstacle to a functioning executive at Stormont, then it needed to be dealt with.
He said: “We need to get the executive up and running again so we can start providing for the people of Northern Ireland who are suffering under a cost-of-living crisis.
“We all know what the landing zone is, no checks on goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they are staying in Northern Ireland. That gets rid of the border down the Irish Sea.
“So we need to get on and get it done. Once we have dealt with it then it should leave the path open to an executive to be formed.”