Boris Johnson warned of Sinn Fein’s threat to the union

Boris Johnson warned that UK faces biggest threat in ages as Sinn Fein vice president – once described as ‘Gerry Adams’ representative on Earth’ – takes power at Stormont

  • Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith fears independent movements
  • He said that anti-union parties are most popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Mr Smith said officials in Brussels should negotiate directly with Belfast

Boris Johnson was warned last night that the UK faced its greatest threat in centuries when Sinn Fein took a historic victory in Northern Ireland.

In a dramatic end to the Stormont election, the Republican party overtook the Democratic Unionists (DUP) as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

With Sinn Fein holding 27 of the 90 seats, the party’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, will now have the right to become Northern Ireland’s prime minister, an unprecedented step for a nationalist politician. It ushered in a ‘new era’ in provincial politics.

With Sinn Fein holding 27 of the 90 seats, the party’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, will now have the right to become Northern Ireland’s prime minister, an unprecedented step for a nationalist politician. Mrs O’Neill, left, pictured with former Deputy Prime Minister Martin McGuinness, center and former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

But former Northern Ireland minister Julian Smith said last night that the result, coupled with the SNP’s victory in Scotland, means that ‘our cherished Union has never been more seriously threatened’. We now have two parts of the UK where political parties committed to breaking up are holding the whip.”

Mr Smith urged Brussels to ‘work directly’ with politicians in Belfast to reform Northern Ireland’s controversial protocol, which imposes a border in the Irish Sea for some goods entering the province.

However, there were also fears of another clash between the UK and Brussels over the protocol that was central to Stormont’s election campaign.

Government sources told The Mail on Sunday that EU Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic had said privately that Brussels will “never” change its negotiating mandate.

Mr Sefcovic is said to have informed Foreign Minister Liz Truss that he did not believe the EU would ever go beyond its existing position on the post-Brexit arrangements.

Last night, a Foreign Office source called the move “incredibly discouraging” and the threats seemed to reaffirm that London would act independently to reform protocol. The source said: “Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have always been clear that action will be taken if no solutions can be found.” Sinn Fein’s victory had been widely predicted after divisions among the Unionists who have held sway in Stormont since the founding of Northern Ireland in 1921. Last night the Republican party finally achieved its goal after reaching 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] Get started.’

For years, Ms. O’Neill was said to have been groomed by prominent Republican figures such as Martin McGuinness and described as “Gerry Adams’ representative on Earth.” Northern Ireland minister 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 things that matter most to them.’

But the DUP has previously warned that it would not join a power-sharing government headed by a Sinn Fein prime minister if the UK and EU do not achieve a breakthrough in changing the protocol.

Sinn Fein can now nominate a prime minister, but cannot hold office unless the DUP, the largest trade union party, agrees to nominate a deputy prime minister. With 88 of the 90 assembly seats proclaimed last night, the DUP stood at 24, while the Alliance Party finished strong at 17 – more than doubling its number in 2017. The Ulster Unionist Party was at nine and the Social Democratic and Workers’ Party at seven. Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon last night congratulated Sinn Fein on ‘an historic achievement’. She tweeted: ‘I wish Michelle and her colleagues – and all the elected representatives of Northern Ireland – all the best for what comes next.’

Before the final result, Sinn Fein’s president Mary Lou McDonald had warned her party would push for a referendum on the unification of Ireland on both sides of the border within five years.

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