Lewis urges DUP to appoint Deputy Prime Minister
UK Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has urged DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister to allow a fully functioning devolved government to resume.
Mr Lewis was speaking hours after the conclusion of a Stormont election which saw a historic victory for Sinn Féin to become the largest party and win the right to appoint a Prime Minister.
Mr Donaldson has called for action on the Northern Ireland protocol before he returns to the executive.
Mr Lewis is due to meet leaders of the Stormont parties tomorrow to talk about resurrecting the Assembly.
Elsewhere, Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said they needed a partnership with Britain, not threats to solve the protocol problem.
Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Mr Lewis said it was widely recognized that there were issues with the protocol that needed to be addressed.
He also pointed out that the full protocol has yet to be implemented with a number of grace periods underway on aspects of the post-Brexit treaty.
Unionists strongly oppose the protocol as placing a boundary in the Irish Sea.
Mr Lewis reiterated his position that the UK government would like to reach an agreement with the EU on resolving protocol issues, but said nothing had been taken off the table.
He urged Mr Donaldson to appoint a Deputy Premier to get a devolved government fully functioning again in Stormont.
The executive has not been able to fully function since February, when former prime minister Paul Givan resigned as part of the DUP’s call for action against the protocol.
“It’s up to the UK government to lead the negotiations, Jeffrey and the DUP and all parties in Stormont should come together and bring Stormont back to solve the domestic issues of Northern Ireland,” he said.
Protocol issues need to be resolved – Coveney
The Foreign Secretary has outstanding issues regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol which need to be resolved in order to allow the parties to reunite.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Mr Coveney said the only way to achieve this is through intense partnership and negotiation.
Maximum flexibility should be applied to the existing agreement to ensure it is implemented in a pragmatic and sensible way, he said.
The minister said it was now up to everyone to help the parties in Northern Ireland come together.
Mr Coveney said: “I certainly hope that by doing this we can help the parties to come together, because the last thing we need now in Northern Ireland is a breakdown of institutions and all the tension and resulting polarization.
“And there’s a responsibility, I think of all of us, to respect the way people are voted on and to find a way to work with the parties to put in place an executive and an assembly that can work again.”
Lewis rules out border poll
Mr Lewis also appeared to rule out calling a border poll, saying that while the first Nationalist premier is an important moment, his overall vote has not increased and the Unionist vote remains higher.
Appearing in the same programme, DUP MP Jonathan Buckley responded by saying his party had promised to scrap the protocol.
“Let me be very clear…either the secretary of state wants an executive or protocol, but he can’t have both,” he said.
“The Secretary of State has a very clear choice.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said he was shocked that anyone could deliver a message that the return of the executive can wait amid a cost of living crisis and requires a health service reform.
“There’s over £300m out there, ready to go into people’s pockets, and I think it’s incumbent on us to collectively sit down because that’s what people want,” he said. he declared.
Sinn Féin won 27 seats while the DUP took 25, the Alliance Party 17, the Ulster Unionists (UUP) nine and the SDLP eight, with four others elected.
Mr Finucane described a “great comeback” for his party, but added that it could have won a few more seats in some constituencies, resulting in a close final tally.
Mr Buckley said it had been “a pretty good result” for the DUP, particularly given some predictions that his party could drop to 18 seats.
He called on trade unionism to have a conversation with itself, adding that “divided trade unionism in 2022 cannot win the election”.
Alliance MP Sorcha Eastwood said it had been a “fantastic election” for her party, doubling the number of MPs.
“It’s not just a brilliant day for Alliance, it’s also a good day for Northern Ireland because people have come out and voted positively and that’s a really important thing that shouldn’t be lost. in the noise,” she said.
UUP MLA Robbie Butler backed its leader Doug Beattie, who had a close race at Upper Bann to retain his own Assembly seat.
Mr Butler said Mr Beattie had been leader for less than a year before the election, he insisted his message was strong and described him as a ‘great leader’, promising to continue delivering positive trade unionism.
SDLP MP Matthew O’Toole said his party had been on the wrong side of the tide in this election.
He described a move within nationalism for Sinn Féin after the DUP ‘behaved appallingly’ during the pre-election period by refusing to confirm whether it would appoint a Deputy Prime Minister to serve with a first Prime Minister nationalist.
Mr O’Toole said the SDLP had run a positive campaign with some great candidates but added: ‘Unfortunately it didn’t work for us this time.’
Additional reporting Conor Macauley, Sinéad Hussey