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The autonomy of Northern Ireland collapses due to the conflict with the EU

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin leader and candidate for Chief Minister, during a press conference after Friday’s failed session in the Northern Ireland Parliament

DUP Unionists Boycott Belfast Assembly Speaker Election Suspended Until ‘Future Date’

The Autonomous Assembly of Northern Ireland will pay salaries to the 90 deputies elected last week, but will not be able to meet due to the refusal of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to participate in the election of its ‘speaker’ or president. Its restoration depends on the British government annulling part of the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union that regulates ‘Brexit’.

The moderate parties of unionism (UUP) and nationalism (SDLP) proposed candidates to occupy the presidency, but the autonomy law requires majorities in the two blocs, which they did not reach. The Assembly cannot meet because it has no one to convene it, but the ministers who served before the elections will continue to oversee their departments with limited powers.

The autonomy suspension will be extended until the DUP changes position. In the only assembly debate to date, the DUP argued that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the Irish Protocol, part of the international treaty that sealed ‘Brexit’, are incompatible, and the other parties criticized it for depriving the province of governance in a time of acute economic difficulties.

The collapse prevents Sinn Féin from occupying the position of chief minister of the Executive, after obtaining the largest number of seats last Thursday. His victory has a symbolic meaning for being the first of a party of Catholic or nationalist culture. Michelle O’Neill, leader and candidate of the republicans, used in her speech, for the first time in the Assembly, the name of “Northern Ireland”.

The incompatibility of the Protocol is based on the fact that the rules derived from the peace agreement require consensus between the two communities for decision-making. Naomi Long, leader of the Alianza party, which does not define itself as nationalist or unionist, reproached the DUP for the fact that there was no consensus on ‘Brexit’, whose only significant support in the province was that of that party.


The closure of autonomy is “the only lever” to force the “mendacious prime minister” – in the words of the radical unionist Jim Allister – to act against the Protocol. Boris Johnson will meet O’Neill in Belfast on Monday, to quell nationalist protests over his support for the DUP’s position. His government is expected to publish a bill on Tuesday to repeal parts of the Protocol.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, negotiator on behalf of the EU, has warned that “such unilateral action will undermine essential conditions for Northern Ireland to continue to have access to the single market for goods.” The Commission will analyze the content of the British bill to define its answers.

The processing of the bill would take at least a year and the British Government would have to overcome obstacles in the House of Commons – the former prime minister, Theresa May, and the conservative president of the Committee for Northern Ireland, Simon Hoare, have already announced its rejection – and would probably be temporarily blocked by the Lords.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who has given up his seat in Belfast to preserve the one he has in Westminster, said that both Brussels and London “know what they have to do, to resolve this issue”. His electoral program is more concrete. It includes the elimination of border controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland between the tests to judge possible changes.

The elimination of controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would coincide with the fourth postponement, this time until the end of 2023, of the establishment of controls on goods entering British borders from the EU, due to logistical problems. That factor could increase Brussels’ concern about preserving the security of the common market in Ireland.

Although the Protocol generates bureaucratic costs to trade between two parts of the United Kingdom, a study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, published this week, indicates that the region’s gross domestic product has exceeded the average growth rate in the United Kingdom in the last quarter, as a result of its dual membership in the British and European markets.

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