N.Ireland First Minister resigns over post-Brexit trade rules

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Paul Givan has resigned as part of the protest staged by his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) against the post-Brexit trade arrangements known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“Today marks the end of what has been the privilege of my lifetime,” Givan told reporters as he resigned on Thursday, a day after one of his ministers tried to halt the inspection of goods arriving from British mainland, a move that violated the Northern Ireland Protocol and angered the European Union (EU).

The Northern Ireland Protocol, as part of the agreed rules following Britain’s departure from the EU, means goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could continue to be sent seamlessly across the border which is now the only EU frontier within the British Isles, reports Xinhua news agency.

However, a de-facto border was created down the middle of the Irish Sea, which has long been heavily criticized by the DUP and businesses saying it has made it more difficult to send goods to Northern Ireland from the British mainland.

“Our institutions are being tested once again. And the delicate balance created by the Belfast and St Andrews agreements has been impacted by the agreement made by the United Kingdom government and the EU which created the Northern Ireland protocol,” Givan said.

His resignation means Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Fein party, with whom he shared power, automatically resigns from office.

It is understood that other ministers in the Northern Ireland executive will remain in office place to implement previously agreed policy but can take no new decisions.

In response, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for an early election for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“I want to be clear, we cannot stagger on in the months ahead without a functioning executive. Sinn Fein will not facilitate this,” she said.

Talks between the EU and the UK government, which is seeking changes to the protocol, have been ongoing for months but have intensified in recent weeks.

On Thursday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic on Thursday, during which the latter said that “it was essential that checks on goods entering Northern Ireland continues”, as they are necessary for Northern Ireland to benefit from access to the EU’s Single Market for goods.

On her part, Truss said urgent progress was needed and her priority was peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

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