The leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has named lawmaker Paul Givan as the devolved government's new first minister. The move is seen as confirming the DUP's return to its traditionalist roots and comes amid turmoil over the impact of Brexit.
Meanwhile, Brussels has reiterated a warning to the British government to honour its commitments under the Northern Ireland Protocol. Part of the divorce deal that Boris Johnson struck with the EU to seal the UK's exit, this keeps Northern Ireland subject to EU trade rules.
Givan is set to replace Arlene Foster who quit as party leader and first minister in April amid recriminations over disruption resulting from the post-Brexit arrangements.
The 39-year-old's nomination was revealed by Edwin Poots as he unveiled his new team in Belfast. Following his recent election as party leader, Poots said he did not want to combine the role with that of first minister. The new ministers are expected to take up their posts next week.
A sticking point could be that the appointment needs the consent of the DUP's main power-sharing partners, Sinn Fein. Yet the Irish nationalist party blames Givan for his decision when communities minister to cut Irish language funding, which in 2017 led to the collapse and near three-year suspension of the previous administration.
However, Poots has said the DUP is committed to introducing legislation on the role of the Irish language.
The delicate political balance in Northern Ireland -- where some people identify as British, others as Irish -- has been further shaken this year by Britain's economic split from the European Union.
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission's vice-president, has said the bloc is ready to act “firmly and resolutely” if the UK fails to honour its commitments under the divorce deal that was supposed to keep trade flowing after Britain left the EU.
The UK angered Brussels earlier this year when it unilaterally extended a grace period delaying many border inspections on goods sent from Britain to Northern Ireland. Reports have said that the UK may extend this action to include chilled meats, which won't be allowed into Northern Ireland from July 1 unless the two sides strike a deal.
Sefcovic warned that the two sides must try to find a common path ahead. "If this does not happen, and if the U.K. takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations," he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Britain has accused the EU of taking an unnecessarily “purist approach” to the new rules.
The agreed customs and border checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are designed to avoid a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. An open Irish border has helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence.
But many among Northern Ireland’s British unionists say the checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea, weaken ties with the rest of the UK, and could bolster calls for Irish reunification. Tensions over the new rules contributed to a week of rioting in April.