Last week the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was overthrown as the largest political entity in Northern Ireland, after elections were held for its General Assembly. The Stormont vote instead placed its arch rivals, Sinn Fein, as the party with the most seats. The nationalists gained majority control for the first time since the Northern Ireland act was signed in 1998.
By becoming the largest party in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is entitled to the position of First Minister – a role its vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, is expected to fill.
But for that to happen, the DUP needs to also nominate for the position of Deputy First Minister.
The DUP is refusing to do so until the British Government acts over concerns about post-Brexit trading arrangements.
So, what exactly are the issues that the DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, is troubled by?
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Unionists want the Northern Ireland protocol to be amended so that it removes – what’s been dubbed as – an Irish Sea border between Belfast and the rest of Britain.
They believe the Brexit deal – which was agreed to in October 2019 – has created a number of economic barriers which disadvantage those in Northern Ireland.
Despite agreeing to the deal, the UK Government has been locked in talks with the European Union (EU) for several years now to renegotiate terms.
But talks have so far stuttered with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss threatening earlier this week that Britain will not “shy away” from taking action on the protocol if “solutions cannot be found”.
The difficulty for the Government is that Sinn Fein is not in favour of all the proposed changes and is seeking a deal which still allows for goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Its position could weaken Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hand at the negotiating table where the EU has so far refused to give any ground.
According to Ms Truss, solutions proposed by the bloc in recent months “fail to properly address the real issues affecting Northern Ireland”, while some “would take us backward”.
She added: “Prices have risen, trade is being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than those over the Irish Sea, which has left them without an executive and poses a threat to peace and stability.
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He said: “Some parties who just a few months ago were mocking the promise of decisive action from the DUP in relation to the protocol are the very same parties now feigning surprise and outrage at a political party keeping its promise to the electorate.
“Devolution was restored on the basis of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement. We have seen delivery of, or significant progress towards, nearly every aspect of that document except one.
“That is the UK Government’s promise to legislate to respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.
“Twenty-eight months since that promise was made and 16 months since it should have been delivered, unionists cannot stand accused of lacking patience.”
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