Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will visit Dublin on Wednesday to speak with Secretary of State Simon Coveney. Photo: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire
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Northern Irish Secretary Brandon Lewis will visit Dublin on Wednesday to speak with Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney amid the ongoing uncertainty in Stormont and the turmoil in the DUP.
The meeting follows weeks of high-level contact between officials in Dublin , London and Belfast, which began following recent riots in mostly loyalist areas and ongoing union opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol after Brexit.
The DUP’s opposition to the protocol, which allows trade between the north and the rest of the The UK’s imposition of some obstacles was one of the main factors behind the challenge to Arlene Foster, who announced last week that she would step down as DUP Chair and First Minister.
Ms. Foster initially accepted the protocol but has recently opposed it. Unionists want the protocol to be torn apart, but neither the UK government nor the European Union, which jointly agreed the protocol, say it can.
The UK government is instead focusing its efforts on making sure that Protocol is applied as smoothly as possible – an attitude that has led to conflict with the EU.
The government is keen to help de-escalate tensions in the north but will not agree to undermine EU requirements to protect the internal market.
She wanted to find “pragmatic” solutions to the problem of British goods entering the north and accessing the EU across the open border with the republic.
Mr Coveney gave an optimistic assessment of the possibility of one last week Compromise on the protocol and informed an Oireachtas committee that the talks between the EU commissioner responsible for the post-Brexit negotiations, Maros Sefcovic, and his British counterpart David Frost had progressed well.
Dublin is also on board interested in holding an intergovernmental conference with British Ministers in the coming months. Downing Street recently rejected Dublin overtures on convening the conference, which is part of the Belfast Accords but has not taken place since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.
However, Mr Coveney has indicated that a meeting could take place in “the coming weeks or months”.
Media reports in the North suggest that Agriculture Secretary Edwin Poots is likely to face competition from MP Jeffrey Donaldson to succeed Ms. Foster as DUP Chair. If so, it would be the first leadership competition in the party’s 50-year history.
The Poots camp has claimed that a majority of DUP MPs and MLAs have pledged their support for his candidacy, but sources close to Donaldson have denied this. A source told the Press Association that Donaldson had received a significant number of endorsements.
It has also been reported that if Mr Poots succeeded in becoming DUP leader, he would not be taking on the role of first minister but would appoint a party colleague while he focused on leading and rebuilding the party.
“Edwin will split the roles of party chairman and first minister,” a DUP spokesman told Sunday Life.
Ms. Foster would not rely on who she would support to replace her and say she would “wait and see who is to be chosen when the candidates come forward and then I will make my decision”.
Northern Justice Minister Naomi Long told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show that the fight against Ms. Foster was marked by “intrigue”, “misogyny” and “calluses”.
Steve Aiken, chairman of the Ulster Unionist, also said he was “very uncomfortable” with the way Ms. Foster was ousted. He said he had given the First Minister his “condolences for the way it was done”.
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