Northern Ireland news

Paul Givan may resign but protocol will remain and people will suffer, Doug Beattie warns

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie.
Jonathan McCambridge and Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland may end up without a First Minister on Friday morning, but the Brexit protocol will remain and people will suffer, UUP leader Doug Beattie has warned.

The expected resignation of Paul Givan has sparked criticism from parties across the divide at Stormont.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and deputy leader Nichola Mallon said they have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the latest threat to devolved government at Stormont, which they described as a “gross betrayal of people in Northern Ireland”.

Speaking to reporters in Stormont, Mr Beattie blasted “another manufactured crisis”.

He said it will have one effect – the instability of Northern Ireland, adding the people will suffer.

“They have suffered enough and they are going to suffer more. They will suffer in the medium term and they will suffer in the long term and all politicians should be standing here and everything that they do they should be doing for the betterment of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“For unionists, this is absolutely crazy because we are moving into a situation where we will end up having to come back with our tail between our legs and we have allowed people to lead us down that road for far, far too long and it is time for change.

“People are going to have to start looking at their unionist leadership and see who is really leading here, because what I’m seeing from those who call themselves the leaders of unionism is no leadership whatsoever.”

Mr Beattie added: “If there is changes to the protocol in the coming weeks and months it will be because of the hard work that is done behind the scenes to get those through negotiations.

“It will not be done by a minister resigning from their post, we will have no first minister come tomorrow morning and if that’s the case the protocol will still be here, in a week’s time the protocol will still be here, in a month’s time the protocol will still be there, but we’ll not have a first minister and therefore the people will suffer because decisions will not be made by people not doing their jobs.”

MP Mr Eastwood said: “The actions of the DUP leadership represent a gross betrayal of people in Northern Ireland.

“Whatever community you’re from, whatever your background or beliefs, no-one benefits from this cynical, and totally predictable, electioneering stunt.

“Resigning from government when people are struggling to provide for their families, heat their homes and deal with the cost of living tells you all you need to know about the DUP – for them the party will always come first and ordinary people come last.

“People deserve better than a choice between bad government or no government.

“That has been the cycle of the last 15 years and it has delivered nothing but failure. It is time to break that cycle and offer people a different choice.”

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson rejected accusations of his party being engaged in a “political stunt” by stopping Brexit checks at Northern Ireland’s ports.

“That allegation was made again when we stopped the building of the posts, when we stopped the charges being imposed on vehicles, when we stopped the recruitment of further officials to carry out the checks,” he told the BBC.

“Although people call them political stunts, they haven’t challenged them and those decisions still stand and those decisions are still impacting on the ability of the protocol to be delivered.”

But Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said the Stormont Executive has an agreed position in relation to the protocol and the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

“That is that under international and domestic law, they have to comply with it. That was agreed with the then DUP leader at an Executive meeting, Arlene Foster,” Mr O’Dowd told the BBC.

“Edwin (Poots) was present at that meeting, and indeed Edwin has stated on the floor of the Assembly that he had to comply with international law and domestic law.

“So what we’re seeing at the moment is a political stunt, a stunt to shore up the career of Edwin Poots and a stunt to shore up the DUP as they face an election.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said Northern Ireland is entering into a period of “further instability”.

He added: “What the effect is on actual checks is uncertain, although most of them remain despite DUP blustering.

“These actions do not stop all checks at our ports, nor do they rid us of the Irish Sea border.

“We are still in the same negotiating position today as we were last week, and it will be through negotiation that the problems around the protocol will be fixed.

“No matter what, we are entering into a period of further instability just when we need to be focused on Covid recovery.

“We again call on the EU and UK Government to redouble efforts to sort out the debacle of the protocol now before the Belfast Agreement is irrevocably damaged.”