Northern Ireland coalition stumbles over customs controls in Brexit protocol

Disagreements between the European Union and Britain over customs controls in Northern Ireland have led to the resignation of Northern Ireland Prime Minister Paul Givan. His resignation comes amid his pro-British DUP's escalating campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol on Brexit. 

The DUP has repeatedly threatened to withdraw its ministers from the Belfast regional administration if sufficient changes are not made to Northern Ireland's protocol. That part of the Brexit treaty stipulates that British and Northern Ireland must introduce customs controls in their trade because (the British province) Northern Ireland remains part of the European free market.

Last week, Northern Ireland's Food + Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots unilaterally ordered an end to these port controls leading to delays in store supplies. The High Court in Belfast has since reversed that. 

The land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is completely open. Deliveries to Northern Ireland must be controlled to prevent goods from entering the EU unchecked from third countries via Great Britain. The Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture, Edwin Poots, wanted to get rid of these controls.

Numerous simplifications have already been agreed between Brussels and London, but still without the satisfaction of the Northern Ireland DUP. The EU calls cessation of customs control a violation of the existing trade agreement.

Northern Ireland Prime Minister Gavin's resignation also sees Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O'Neill resign. She is from the Sinn Fein party, the pro-European Irish nationalist rival to the DUP. There are regional elections in Northern Ireland in April; they may now be brought forward.

According to some commentators, the continued DUP commentary on customs control is mainly intended to emphasize the party's pro-British stance. Sinn Fein believes there should be a referendum on Northern Ireland's trade position.