British Prime Minister Sunak wants DUP to step back into Northern Ireland government: ‘otherwise Irish unification threatens’
British prime minister Rishi Sunak wants the Northern Ireland DUP to step into government again. Otherwise, there is a long-term threat of unification of Ireland and Northern Ireland, he argues, which would go against the unionist vision of the DUP. Northern Ireland has not had a government for almost a year now, as the DUP is thwarted by the Brexit arrangement across the Northern Ireland border.
Prime Minister Sunak delivered the closing address yesterday at a three-day event at the University of Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of The Good Friday Agreement. That agreement brought (fragile) peace in 1998 after three decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
Among other things, Sunak addressed the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, in his speech. The prime minister called on the party to re-enter the Northern Ireland government. If she does not, Sunak warned, then Northern Ireland threatens to join Ireland in the long run. The opposite of what unionists in Northern Ireland advocate, they believe that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland has not had a government for almost a year. Since the elections in May last year, the DUP has refused to form a government with the Irish-minded Catholic parties. At that election, the Catholic Sinn Féin party, the political descendants of the former Irish Republican Army (IRA), became the largest party in the Northern Ireland parliament.
In The Good Friday Agreement, it was agreed 25 years ago that the largest Unionist Party and the largest Catholic party should form a government together, which is also the result of the elections. The larger of the two may supply the prime minister, the other the deputy prime minister.
In recent decades, the prime minister has always been a unionist (in recent years someone from the DUP). So for the first time, the prime minister should now be someone from Sinn Féin, specifically Michelle O’neill. But due to the DUP boycott, there is still no new government.
Officially, the DUP does not want to go into government because of the Brexit arrangement over the Northern Ireland border. Until recently, it stipulated that customs checks had to be carried out in the Northern Irish ports for goods coming from Great Britain, thus creating a border between England, Wales and Scotland on the one hand and Northern Ireland on the other. That is to avoid a new hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which could potentially rekindle violence.
But the DUP could not swallow the sea border, because it made Northern Ireland isolated from the rest of the United Kingdom and that goes against the unionist vision of the party. A month ago, the UK and the European Union agreed to adjust the Brexit regime, which would no longer require all goods to be checked in Northern Irish ports, but only those goods intended for Ireland (and therefore the European Union).