Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan has announced his resignation from Stormont’s powersharing Executive following a row over Brexit food checks.
The move is part of the DUP’s escalating protest strategy against the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol that was introduced following an agreement between the UK and the EU.
It comes 24 hours after DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots acted unilaterally to order a halt to agri-food checks required under the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
It is understood senior DUP figures met on Thursday to confirm the timing and details of Mr Givan’s resignation statement.
The latest twists in the protocol controversy are playing out as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic are due to meet on Thursday to discuss progress in their ongoing negotiations aimed at reducing the Brexit barriers on Irish Sea trade.
The resignation of the First Minister would automatically remove Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from office.
In those circumstances, other ministers in the administration could still remain in place. However, the Executive could not meet or make any significant decisions.
That would prevent the coalition from agreeing a three-year budget – a spending plan that is currently out for public consultation.
A planned official state apology by Mr Givan and Ms O’Neill to victims of historic institutional abuse, scheduled for March, would also not happen.
A number of Covid-19 restrictions remain in place in Northern Ireland. Their status in the event of an Executive collapse remains unclear.