- The U.K. government has granted Northern Ireland politicians an extension until Feb. 8 to restore the collapsed regional government in Belfast.
- The extension is given after a previous deadline in January passed without a resolution to the deadlock.
- Northern Ireland’s largest British unionist party is considering ending a boycott that has kept the administration inactive for almost two years.
The U.K. government on Tuesday gave Northern Ireland politicians until Feb. 8 to restore the collapsed regional government in Belfast, after a deadline this month passed without an end to the deadlock.
The extension comes amid signs Northern Ireland’s largest British unionist party is close to deciding whether to end a boycott that has kept the power-sharing administration on ice for almost two years.
The British government is legally obliged to call new Northern Ireland elections now that a previous deadline of Jan. 18 has passed. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he would bring a bill to Parliament on Wednesday to set a new date of Feb. 8.
‘UNPRECEDENTED’ SPIKE IN TERROR THREATS AMID ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR, TOP UK TERRORISM OFFICIAL SAYS
He said “significant progress” had been made towards reviving the Northern Ireland Executive, and the short extension would give “sufficient” time for it to bear fruit.
The Democratic Unionist Party walked out in February 2022 in a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules. Ever since, it has refused to return to government with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein. Under power-sharing rules established as part of Northern Ireland’s peace process, the administration must include both British unionists and Irish nationalists.
The walkout left Northern Ireland’s 1.9 million people without a functioning administration to make key decisions as the cost of living soared and backlogs strained the creaking public health system.
Teachers, nurses and other public sector workers in Northern Ireland staged a 24-hour strike last week, calling on politicians to return to government and give them a long-delayed pay raise. The British government has agreed to give Northern Ireland more than 3 billion pounds ($3.8 billion) for its public services, but only if the executive in Belfast gets back up and running.
The DUP quit the government in opposition to new trade rules — put in place after the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020 — that imposed customs checks and other hurdles on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.
SCABIES OUTBREAK IN UK LINKED TO DRUG SHORTAGES, EXPERTS CONFIRM: ‘PROGRESSIVELY WORSE’
The checks were imposed to maintain an open border between the north and its EU neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process. The DUP, though, says the new east-west customs border undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the U.K.
In February 2023, the U.K. and the EU agreed on a deal to ease customs checks and other hurdles for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. But it was not enough for the DUP, which continued its government boycott.
Protracted negotiations failed to persuade the DUP to return to government. But there have recently been signs of movement in the political stalemate.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said Monday that talks with the U.K. government had made progress, and “we will endeavor to close the remaining gaps between us.”
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said it was “decision time” for the DUP.
“Workers and their families cannot be left in the lurch any longer,” she said. “The DUP leader should do the right thing and restore the democratic institutions.”