UK 'Has Never Been Under Greater Threat' Amid Sinn Fein Victory, Ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Says
© AP Photo / Peter MorrisonA Sinn Fein canvassing car plays music on the Falls road in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday May 5, 2022
© AP Photo / Peter Morrison
The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has secured a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time, prompting unionists to suggest they will boycott the new government unless post-Brexit trade rules with the EU are addressed.
The United Kingdom faces a “great threat” following the historic Sinn Fein victory in the Northern Ireland Assembly election on Saturday, former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said in his op-ed for The Daily Mail.
"There is no disguising the historic importance of this election result for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. For we now have two parts of the UK where political parties avowedly dedicated to its break-up hold the whip hand," Smith wrote.
He called to "address the core issue at the heart of the Northern Irish election results – the Brexit deal Protocol." According to the former minister, a compromise has to be reached with the European Union regarding the post-Brexit trade rules. However, reports indicate that the EU’s Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic has said privately that Brussels will "never" change its stance.
According to this provision, also known as the Northern Ireland protocol, goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are subject to border checks and custom controls so as to keep the north-south Irish border open, as outlined by the Good Friday agreement.
With Sinn Fein swiping 27 seats out of 90 seats, its vice president, Michelle O'Neill, may potentially become Northern Ireland's first-ever nationalist first minister. On Saturday, O'Neill pledged a "new era" for Northern Ireland and said it was time for "real change".
Her party vocally supports the idea of reunification with the Republic of Ireland. It has, however, assured that no constitutional changes will come until voters make their decision despite also hinting that preparations for a reunification referendum may be triggered in the coming five years.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which backs unity with the UK - has already indicated that it will not serve under a nationalist first minister; at least not before the post-Brexit trading rules are changed.
Despite Sinn Fein supporting the controversial provisions of the trading rules, the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News that London will move to quickly "fix" the Northern Ireland protocol.
“It must be dealt with,” Raab told Sky News on Sunday. “I do not want to escalate some of the tensions, I want to de-escalate them.”