Northern Ireland’s first minister was reportedly poised to tender his resignation amid an intensifying row over checks on food and agricultural goods entering the region from Great Britain under post-Brexit trading rules.
BBC Radio Ulster reported today that Paul Givan of the Democratic Unionist party, who heads the power-sharing executive, had written his resignation letter and it was expected to be made public later by DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. It was not immediately clear if the resignation would take immediate effect.
There was no immediate confirmation from the DUP, but the possibility of its pulling out of the Stormont executive, in which it rules alongside the nationalist Sinn Féin party, has been flagged in recent days by Donaldson.
Givan’s exit would trigger that of Michelle O’Neill, the deputy first minister from Sinn Féin, weeks before regional elections on May 5. Other ministers would remain in place but the budget, which is under consideration, would be put on hold.
The possibility of Givan’s departure came hours after Edwin Poots, the DUP’s agriculture minister, ordered a halt to agricultural checks on goods from midnight. The DUP has spearheaded unionist opposition to Irish Sea border checks imposed by Brexit — under arrangements known as the Northern Ireland Protocol — to avoid a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Hauliers, speaking after talks with UK and Northern Irish officials, confirmed the agricultural checks had not yet been halted. John Martin of the Road Haulage Association said officials in the Northern Irish agriculture ministry were taking legal advice on the order, which contravenes the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the EU.
Doug Beattie, head of the Ulster Unionist party, said pulling Givan out of the executive would create further destabilisation and “at the end, the protocol will still be there”.