Northern Ireland’s first minister Paul Givan has resigned in a row over checks at the Irish Sea border.
His party, the Democratic Unionist Party, has long been opposed to the Northern Ireland protocol — the part of the Brexit deal that means checks must be carried out on goods entering the province from mainland Britain.
His resignation comes just hours after the DUPs’ power-sharing partner, Sinn Fein, criticised its threat to halt the checks as a “stunt” that attempted to “unlawfully interfere with domestic and international law”.
Announcing his resignation, Givan said: “Our institutions are being tested once again. And the delicate balance created by the Belfast and St Andrews agreements has been impacted by the agreement made by the United Kingdom government and the European Union which created the Northern Ireland protocol.
“The consent principle is a cornerstone of the Belfast agreement and it is my earnest desire that all sections of the community will soon be able to give consent to the restoration of a fully functioning executive, through a resolution to the issues that have regrettably brought us to this point.”
Givan’s decision to quit is likely to throw Stormont’s power-sharing arrangement into disarray.
As part of the agreement, deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Féin, will also have to stand down from her position, meaning the executive will no longer be able to function as normal.
However, according to the BBC, Westminster is currently finalising legislation that will allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to continue from between six and nine months without the need for an election.
Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith urged people to “keep the faith”.
The DUP has been opposed to the protocol ever since it was introduced as part of the Brexit deal.
In order to avoid a politically sensitive hard border separating Northern Ireland — no longer in the EU — from the republic in the south which remained in the bloc, London and Brussels essentially agreed to move new regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea.
Northern Ireland has remained in the EU single market for goods, while the region also applies EU customs rules at its ports, even though it is still part of the UK customs territory.
While the protocol honours the integrity of the EU’s single market for goods as well as the Good Friday peace agreement, Unionist parties do not like it because they believe it damages Nothern Ireland’s place in the UK by treating it as a separate entity.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss has been engaged in talks with EU Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic to try and solve issues arising from the protocol, including disrupted trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.
However, she has threatened to trigger Article 16, a mechanism under the Brexit deal which allows either side to suspend the agreement if it caused “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
There was emotion in Givan’s voice as he said: “Most of all I want to thank my family, especially my wife Emma.
“It’s often those that we are close to in our families that feel the pressure, even more so than those of us in frontline politics.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without their support.”