Stormont’s Northern Irish Assembly is in danger of collapsing ‘forever’ because of Democratic Unionist tactics, a rival party leader has warned.
Just a year after power-sharing was restored after a three-year hiatus, Doug Beattie, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said the DUP’s decision to quit as prime minister 10 days ago, combined to its veiled threats not to return to power-sharing unless the British government meets the demands of the Brexit protocol, puts democratic institutions in permanent danger.
Northern Ireland faces one of its most transformative elections on May 5, with opinion polls predicting Sinn Féin will overtake the DUP as Stormont’s largest party.
Beattie fears the DUP is signaling that it will refuse to share power if removed as the second largest party, and is using protocol as a first excuse. This is despite the party knowing that “the protocol will still be there” after the election, as the Tories have made it clear that it is not abandoned.
“Stormont will be gone if Sinn Féin returns as the biggest party and the DUP second. It will be gone forever,” Beattie said. “The UK government and the Northern Ireland office are being dragged by the scruff of the neck by the DUP.
“They’re creating divisive politics and until someone stands up to them and says ‘no you can’t do this, it’s not going to end well. And that’s what’s happening here,” he adds.
It comes as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said all Unionist parties should commit to appointing ministers in the event that Sinn Féin becomes the biggest party after the next election.
The UUP has declined to make a public commitment, but is unlikely to be able to take on the alternate role. Beattie’s party is at 14% in the polls, tied for third with the Alliance party, while the DUP is at 17%.
The DUP has repeatedly refused to say whether it will accept the post of deputy prime minister, a sign of things to come if Sinn Féin are victorious, critics say.
Legally, under the Good Friday Agreement, the role of the deputy prime minister is equal to that of the prime minister, with the parties sharing power at the top equally.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson gave the electorate another glimpse of his strategy last week, warning it would be ‘difficult’ to return to Stormont if the protocol was not resolved by election, remarks that horrified rivals.
Speaking from his offices in Portadown, Beattie accused Boris Johnson of being part of what he believes is a naked election campaign.
“The UK Government had the option of legislating that the Prime Minister and Deputy Minister would have the same name. They chose not to. They both play with Northern Ireland. It is beyond reckless,” he said.
Beattie has presented his party as more liberal and progressive than its rivals, but is as opposed to protocol as the DUP. However, Beattie believes his party respects democracy.
He said: “The difference between us and the DUP is that we are not willing to bring institutions down to do something that we can do through dialogue and engagement and talking to people.”
The UUP presented the Conservatives and the EU with a five-point plan to fix the protocol.
It includes the elimination of all checks on goods from Britain destined to remain in Northern Ireland through a process of self-certification, a new law allowing fines for any business in Britain that has certified goods to NI but sent them to the Republic, and a legal safeguard for the EU against cross-border violations of the new protocol.
He also wants to see Stormont’s ongoing four-year vote on whether to keep or drop the protocol, as well as the role of the European Court of Justice and the ‘democratic deficit’ that leaves Northern Ireland speechless. about potential new laws. of the EU.
However, Beattie does not trust Johnson’s repeated promises to keep protocol. “I don’t trust him one iota. It’s all rhetoric and sound bites. I don’t personally hate him, but he’s just not connected. I don’t think he’s a good prime minister,” Beattie said.
He said he had faith in Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, but asked ‘What was Johnson doing giving him the Brexit role?’ when she had to deal with Ukraine and China.
The DUP has been approached for comments.