Power-sharing has collapsed in Northern Ireland, ending more than a decade of joint-rule between unionist and nationalist politicians.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister last Monday. The party had until midday to nominate a replacement for him, however in a midday motion in the devolved parliament, they have refused to do so. This means the Northern Ireland Assembly can no longer continue to govern.
In response, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, has now called for fresh elections, in the hope of returning a new government to parliament. He announced the elections will be held on 2 March.
Mr McGuinness resigned last Monday, citing concerns about the Democratic Unionist Party’s “arrogance” at how they had handled allegations of a financial scandal. The party’s leader, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, is implicated in a government scheme which was badly handled under her tenure.
The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which was set up in 2012, was designed to encourage local businesses to use renewable heat sources, however it appears to have been seriously flawed in its implementation and instead paid businesses money to pointlessly burn fuel. It is estimated that the affair has cost the tax payer more than £490 million.
One of Ms Foster’s party colleagues added further criticism when he alleged she had asked civil servants to alter documents in order to reduce the appearance of her role in the scheme. She denies the allegations.
Ms Foster denies any wrong doing and has refused calls to step down. Mr McGuinness therefore resigned on Monday. Under power-sharing rules, both politicians must govern jointly. Therefore, if one resigns, their counterpart also loses their position.
Snap elections are now expected in a bid to elect a new government.
While Stormont is collapsed, Theresa May might be unable to trigger Article 50 as the Northern Ireland Assembly will be unable to approve the plans. Speaking to The Independent, leader of the anti-sectarian Alliance Party Naomi Long, said Ms May could face a court challenge if she attempts to do so while Northern Irish politicians are not in parliament to be consulted on such plans. This raises the possibility that Brexit could be delayed by several more months.
The Supreme Court is currently considering whether Stormont is entitled to approve plans to trigger Article 50, through a mechanism put to the devolved assemblies known as a ‘legislative consent motion’. A decision is expected to be announced by the judges in the coming days.
Northern Ireland voted to keep the UK in the EU, by a margin of 56 per cent voters for Remain. As the only part of the UK which shares a land border with another EU country, in the form of the Republic of Ireland, concerns have been raised about how this border could be affected by Brexit.
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