Northern Ireland will not be held “to ransom” by the DUP and UK Government while Boris Johnson “plays chicken” with Brussels over Brexit, Sinn Fein warned on Monday.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, said earlier that his party would never enter into a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein, which favours Irish reunification, unless the Northern Ireland Protocol was torn up or replaced.
Sinn Fein became the biggest party in Northern Ireland for the first time on Saturday after the Stormont elections, which entitles Michelle O’Neill to claim the post of First Minister.
But an Executive can only be formed with the consent of the largest nationalist and largest unionist party, which is the DUP.
Ms O’Neill, the vice-president of Sinn Fein, said: “As Democrats the DUP, but also the British government, must accept and respect the democratic outcome of this election.”
The DUP has called on the Government to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol, which gives Northern Ireland access to the UK and EU markets and prevents a hard Irish border by introducing checks on British goods entering the province.
The Government has warned that “nothing is off the table” if negotiations with Brussels fail, despite EU warnings it could cancel the trade deal with the UK in retaliation.
Ms O’Neill said: “Brinkmanship will not be tolerated when Northern Ireland becomes collateral damage in a game of chicken with the European Commission.
“Responsibilities for finding solutions to the Protocol lie with Boris Johnson and the EU. But make no mistake, we and our businessmen here will not be held for ransom.”
Ms O’Neill, who focused her campaign on the cost of living, added: “It’s time for us all as political leaders to have the courage to step forward with unity of purpose and determination to offer a stable power-sharing coalition. The people want government and we all want change and I’m committed to both.”
Sir Jeffrey said on Monday: “Until we get decisive action taken by the UK Government on the Protocol we will not be nominating ministers to the Executive.”
Noami Long, the leader of the cross-community centrist Alliance Party, which came third in the elections, urged the DUP to “step up to the plate”.
Unionists oppose the Protocol, which created the Irish Sea border and means Northern Ireland continues to follow some EU rules, because they believe it is driving a wedge between them and the rest of the UK.
Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, met with the main parties in Belfast on Monday.
He said: “Northern Ireland’s party leaders must come together to agree on a way forward to deliver a stable and accountable devolved government.”
‘Dial down the rhetoric’
He added: “We will continue to press the EU to agree to the crucial changes [to the Protocol] that are urgently needed but will take nothing off the table in our pursuit of those solutions.”
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president, told Politico the UK should “dial down the rhetoric, be honest about the deal they signed and agree to find solutions within its framework”.
One of Mr Johnson’s closest allies, Conor Burns, was appointed as his special representative to the United States on the Northern Ireland Protocol in an attempt to launch a charm offensive on the American Irish lobby.
Number 10 believes that the Irish diaspora, which is influential in Washington, has convinced Joe Biden to oppose Britain’s attempts to rip up the Protocol.
Mr Burns, who is also a Northern Ireland minister, is a longtime ally of Mr Johnson and helped coordinate his response to letters of no-confidence in him being submitted by Tory MPs over “partygate”. He is also a Catholic and was born in Belfast.
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( Information from telegraph.co.uk was used in this report. To Read More, click here )