BELFAST — The Northern Ireland Assembly elections have produced a dormant Stormont as Democratic Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed Friday his pro-Brexit party won’t let it clear the first hurdle.
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“Today the DUP will not support the election of a speaker in the assembly,” said Donaldson, confirming a move reported Wednesday by POLITICO.
Refusing to take this first step, following the formal registration of the assembly’s 90 members this afternoon, means all parliamentary business cannot proceed: no attempt to appoint ministers to a new power-sharing government, no formation of scrutiny committees, no business at all.
Donaldson insisted his party was right to block other parties from forming a cross-community government between British unionists and Irish nationalists, the central objective of the U.K. region’s 1998 peace accord. As the largest unionist party, his DUP can exercise a veto over government formation – a policy of obstruction that Donaldson says he will end only if Britain unilaterally breaks its post-Brexit trade protocol with the EU.
Donaldson accused other parties, which mostly support the protocol as the best way to manage supply-chain disruptions from Brexit, of promoting “a fundamental destruction of power-sharing through the abandonment of consent and cross-community consensus.”
While the Good Friday deal specified that controversial assembly decisions require support from both sides of the house to proceed, it doesn’t permit either side to veto international treaties such as the protocol. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior Conservative government ministers are arguing that the DUP’s threat to power-sharing could justify unilateral U.K. moves to stop EU-required checks on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland ports.
The DUP was the only major Northern Ireland party to oppose the Good Friday deal but relented in 2007 after the outlawed Irish Republican Army disarmed and its allied Sinn Féin party accepted the legal authority of Northern Ireland’s police force.
Last week’s election elevated Sinn Féin to first place for the first time, giving it the right to hold the top power-sharing post rather than Donaldson, who resigned his assembly seat Thursday and confirmed he will keep his MP job instead.
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