Boris Johnson is warned the UK faces its greatest threat for centuries as Sinn Fein’s Vice President – once described as ‘the representative of Gerry Adams on Earth’ – wins power at Stormont
Boris Johnson was warned last night that the UK was facing its greatest threat for centuries as Sinn Fein achieved a historic win in Northern Ireland.
In a dramatic end to the Stormont elections, the republican party overtook the Democratic Unionists (DUP) to be the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
With Sinn Fein on 27 seats out of 90, the party’s Vice President Michelle O’Neill will now be entitled to become Northern Ireland’s First Minister, an unprecedented move for a nationalist politician. She hailed a ‘new era’ in the politics of the province.
With Sinn Fein on 27 seats out of 90, the party’s Vice President Michelle O’Neill will now be entitled to become Northern Ireland’s First Minister, an unprecedented move for a nationalist politician. Ms O’Neill, left, is pictured with former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, centre and former Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams
But former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said last night that the result, coupled with the SNP’s victory in Scotland, means ‘our cherished Union has never been under greater threat. We now have two parts of the UK where political parties dedicated to its break-up hold the whip hand.’
Mr Smith urged Brussels to ‘engage directly’ with politicians in Belfast to reform the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol which sets up a border in the Irish Sea for some goods entering the province.
However, there were also fears of a fresh UK showdown with Brussels over the Protocol which has been at the heart of the Stormont election campaign.
Government sources told The Mail on Sunday that EU Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic had privately said Brussels will ‘never’ change its negotiating mandate.
Mr Sefcovic is said to have informed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss that he did not believe the EU would ever go beyond its existing stance on the post-Brexit arrangements.
Last night, a Foreign Office source branded the move ‘incredibly disheartening’ and appeared to reaffirm threats that London would act independently to reform the Protocol. The source said: ‘Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have always been clear that action will be taken if solutions can’t be found.’ Sinn Fein’s victory had been widely predicted after splits among Unionists who have held sway at Stormont since Northern Ireland was formed in 1921.Yesterday evening, the republican party finally achieved its goal after it reached the 27 seats – two more than the DUP could win. Ms O’Neill said her party’s triumph was a ‘defining moment for our politics and for our people’.
She added: ‘This has been an election of real change. I will lead the Sinn Fein team to Stormont on Monday, ready to get the Executive [the devolved Northern Ireland government] up and running right away.’
For many years it was said that Ms O’Neill was groomed by leading Republican figures such as Martin McGuinness and she has been described as ‘the representative of Gerry Adams on Earth’. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis also encouraged the parties ‘to form an Executive as soon as possible. The people of Northern Ireland deserve a stable and accountable local government that delivers on the issues that matter most to them.’
But the DUP has previously warned that it would not join a power-sharing government led by a Sinn Fein First Minister if the UK and EU have not secured a breakthrough on changing the Protocol.
Sinn Fein can now nominate a First Minister but cannot take up the office unless the DUP, the biggest unionist party, agrees to nominate a Deputy First Minister. With 88 of the 90 assembly seats declared last night, the DUP was on 24 while the Alliance Party was finishing strongly with 17 – more than doubling its tally in 2017. The Ulster Unionist Party was on nine and the Social Democratic and Labour Party on seven. Last night, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon congratulated Sinn Fein on ‘a historic result’. She tweeted: ‘I wish Michelle & her colleagues – & all Northern Ireland’s elected representatives – the very best for what comes next.’
Before the final result, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald had warned that her party would push for an Irish unification referendum on both sides of the border within five years.