Northern Ireland to restore government after UK parliament approves deal

LONDON/BELFAST – Northern Ireland is set to elect a government on Feb 3 for the first time in two years after the British Parliament agreed to revamp post-Brexit trade rules to break a political stalemate.

In a historic first, Irish nationalists Sinn Fein are set to take the First Minister role after securing the most seats in the British region’s 2022 election.

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked out in protest over the post-Brexit trade rules, which it said created barriers with the rest of the United Kingdom and undermined Northern Ireland’s place in it.

The deal represents a political win for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who managed a breakthrough that eluded his predecessor Boris Johnson, and helps draw a line under years of wrangling over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.

It also follows lobbying from US President Joe Biden, who visited Northern Ireland in 2023.

“I am delighted that the Democratic Unionist Party have taken this next step,” Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said in a statement.

Britain’s parliament on Feb 1 approved without formal votes a revamp of rules governing Northern Ireland trade that were negotiated between the British government and the DUP.

The measures include eliminating any physical checks when goods move within the so-called UK internal market system and that more than 80 per cent of all goods from Britain to Northern Ireland would not face checks.

Shortly after the vote, the DUP formally requested a sitting of Northern Ireland’s parliament in order to form a power-sharing government, a key part of a 1998 peace deal that ended decades of sectarian and political violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, pro-British unionists and the British Army.

“Following the passage of very important legislation… I have this afternoon written to the Speaker of the Assembly to indicate that there now exists a basis upon which the Northern Ireland Assembly can meet… and fill the offices of First and Deputy First Ministers and Executive Ministers,” party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said in a statement.

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