The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said that the Northern Ireland Protocol is “driving up the cost of living” as voters head to the polls tomorrow for the NI Assembly election.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claims the protocol has led to consumers in Northern Ireland spending more than those in Great Britain, in particular on dairy products and chilled convenience foods.
A leaders debate on the BBC, in which the five main parties set out their stalls for the last time, saw Donaldson commit to turning up to Stormont after the election.
The DUP brought about the election when its First Minster Paul Givan resigned in protest over the protocol in February.
Sinn Fein, which stands to become the largest party in NI after Thursday, is in favour of the protocol as it prevents a hard Irish border and is a “mitigation against Brexit,” the party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill said in the debate last night.
With the DUP likely to lose its position as the largest party in NI, there have been doubts about whether the party would play a part in the power-sharing assembly, which can only operate with support from both nationalist and unionist parties.
However, the DUP will only enter into a power-sharing government if other parties agree that the protocol must be removed or replaced, reports the Telegraph.
“We’ve got to get political stability back and all that and we have to have an executive forum on cases that can command cross community support and right now, there is not union support for the protocol,” said Donaldson.
RTE reports Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie that the DUP’s crippling of Stormont stopped the allocation of £300m in government funding to alleviate the cost of living crisis and that “people need to own that failing”.
Talks to resume
Negotiations between the UK and EU over the protocol have been suspended during the NI election campaign but will resume talks afterwards, with the UK is signalling it is ready to act unilaterally, reports Politico.
The next Queen’s speech, teeing up the parliamentary session on 10 May, is expected to include plans for a bill giving the government new powers to replace parts of the protocol.
The ‘mad-man’ plan is seen as one way to shake up negotiations as UK ministers grow frustrated with their inability to bring the EU closer to their demands, two people familiar with the proposals said.
However, such a move is likely to be met by strong EU opposition and could result in legal action and the imposition of retaliatory tariffs.
If Sinn Fein emerges as the largest party, it would bolster nationalist views on both sides of the Irish border. Such a scenario would likely intensify resistance in the Republic of Ireland and the EU to any changes to the protocol, Bloomberg claims.
“It does make a difference for the UK government in terms of messaging to say ‘we need to scrap the protocol,’ when large numbers in Northern Ireland are voting for the party supporting it,” said David Henig, who focuses on UK trade at the European Centre for International Political Economy think tank.