Paul Givan has resigned as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland after eight months. Reason: dissatisfaction with the agreements made in the Brexit deal on the border between his country and the rest of the United Kingdom. Givan’s resignation comes three months before elections that could potentially have major implications for the future of the entire island of Ireland.
‘Today marks the end of what has been the privilege of my life,’ Givan said Thursday at a press conference announcing his departure.
Givan, who was prime minister on behalf of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom as far as he is concerned and is therefore annoyed by the previously made Brexit agreements on the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Due to Brexit, Northern Ireland is no longer in the EU, unlike Ireland. Because these two countries do share an island, it was decided during the Brexit negotiations not to establish a hard border between the two countries; not least for fear that such a border would rekindle the long-standing tensions between Catholics and Protestants.
The Brexit agreement therefore placed the EU’s external border not between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but between Northern Ireland on the one hand, and England, Scotland and Wales on the other. That means that although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom left the EU two years ago, the Northern Irish must still abide by European rules.
That so-called protocol for Northern Ireland has therefore been experienced as a monstrosity by the members of Givan’s DUP party since it was concluded. It not only breaks the unity of the United Kingdom, it also unnecessarily complicates trade between Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. On Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s Agriculture minister, also a member of DUP, said that border controls on imports of agricultural products should actually be lifted by midnight, because they are based on a protocol that should never have been introduced.
The departure of Givan comes at a very salient moment, namely three months before the Northern Ireland elections on 5 May. Normally, DUP wins it with ease, but given the dissatisfaction with the protocol, there is a chance this time that Sinn Fein, which started as a political arm of the IRA and advocates the reunification of the two Ireland countries, will become the largest for the first time in history.
Since Sinn Fein also leads the polls in Ireland, where the party also has a division, a victory in Northern Ireland on May 5 could be a prelude to a reunification of both countries.