DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party will not support the election of a new Speaker in Stormont today.
Ninety MLAs will gather in the Assembly after last week’s election in Northern Ireland saw Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party for the first time.
The DUP had previously indicated that it will not nominate for the position of deputy First Minister, which will prevent the forming of a new Executive, as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Unionists oppose the post-Brexit treaty because of the economic barriers it creates between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Sir Jeffrey said: “Today the DUP will not support the election of a speaker in the Assembly.
“Some parties who just a few months ago were mocking the promise of decisive action from the DUP in relation to the protocol are the very same parties now feigning surprise and outrage at a political party keeping its promise to the electorate.
“Devolution was restored on the basis of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement. We have seen delivery of, or significant progress towards, nearly every aspect of that document except one.
“That is the UK government’s promise to legislate to respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.
“Twenty-eight months since that promise was made and 16 months since it should have been delivered, unionists cannot stand accused of lacking patience.”
He added: “I have both patience and resolve in equal measure to see the Irish Sea border removed and stable as well as sustainable devolution restored.
“Unionist concerns on the Northern Ireland Protocol are not merely some political squabble which is impacting upon Stormont.
“The protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have underpinned every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years. It erodes the very foundations that devolution has been built upon.”
Reacting to the DUP leader’s stance, minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News: “Well, I think Jeffrey’s position has been relatively clear that he believes the protocol is not functioning properly and needs reform.
“I agree with Sir Jeffrey. I think that’s a reasonable position, understandable position for him to take. We cannot allow the functioning of the European Union to undermine the United Kingdom.”
Since last week’s election, Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill has repeatedly called for the DUP to re-enter the Executive so it can begin to tackle challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis.
Northern Ireland’s new first minister-elect cannot take up the role without the DUP nominating a deputy First Minister.
Both roles are equal and one cannot be in office without the other – under the rules of the devolved power-sharing administration.
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Ms O’Neill said: “All parties should turn up, all parties should nominate and we should have an Executive up and running.
“There is no reason for that not to happen and it is not acceptable or not good enough that the DUP won’t turn up or won’t nominate for the position of Speaker or the title of First or deputy First Ministers.”
It comes amid increased tensions between the Westminster government and the EU over the working of the protocol – which forms part of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said the UK will have “no choice but to act” if the EU does not show enough “flexibility” over post-Brexit checks on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland.