Unionists reacted furiously last night after Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary signaled on the eve of the Assembly elections that Britain would not change the NI protocol any time soon.
Brandon Lewis reported on ITV Peston program last night that his government had backed out of including plans in next week’s Queen’s Speech to allow them to suspend part of the protocol.
Coming just hours before polls open for today’s general election, his comments could cause serious problems for DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson.
TUV chief Jim Allister said past experience meant he was not surprised by what the Secretary of State had reported.
“If the Government again backs down from action, it underscores the need for Unionist voters to respond strongly at the ballot box…and reject the unfair protocol by voting TUV.” No maritime border,” he said.
“A growing TUV vote will be seen as the catalyst for action, not words. Unionists must maximize pressure on the government.
“While others have flirted with ‘the best of both worlds’ and exploited the Poots’ posts, TUV is the voice of relentless opposition to protocol. There can be no misinterpretation of what a vote means. for TUV.
The DUP has been approached for comments.
Mr Donaldson’s party is fighting to remain the largest in Stormont and to keep the premiership. Opinion polls show Sinn Féin in the lead and the party is also the bookmakers’ favourite.
Participation will be decisive in determining the composition of the next Assembly. There are fears that the boring and low-key campaign will leave people demotivated to vote.
There was a 65 per cent turnout in the 2017 Assembly elections, following Sinn Féin’s crushing of “crocodile” comments by Stormont and Arlene Foster. However, voter turnout in the previous year’s elections was significantly lower at 55%.
A total of 606 polling stations across Northern Ireland open at 7am and close at 10pm. The count begins tomorrow morning with the first results expected in the afternoon.
For the first time, voters going to polling stations will be asked to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“Please bring a mask. We try to do everything we can to provide as much protection,” Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea said.
“There will be masks available – but it would be great if you could put a mask in your pocket.
“If you’re not comfortable using pencils in the voting booths, we’ll clean them – but if you’re not comfortable, bring your own pen or pencil,” she said. told the BBC.
Political leaders in the North spent yesterday frantically canvassing at the last minute before the polls opened.
Jeffrey Donaldson used his last day campaigning in Belfast, while Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill spent her time in central Ulster.
If opinion polls translate into results, it would be the first time a Nationalist or Republican party has finished first in Stormont and could nominate a Prime Minister.
Mr Donaldson described the election as ‘a choice between real action on issues that matter to people or a divisive border ballot plan’.
He described the outcome of the election as “critical for the future of Northern Ireland”.
Ms O’Neill described the election as a “historic moment” and “real change”.
She said she wanted to become prime minister for all.
“On the first day after this election, Sinn Féin will be ready to form an executive and get to work,” she said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood traveled to a number of constituencies on the final day of the canvass to support his candidates. He is the only party leader not standing for election today as he is currently MP for Foyle.
He described the election as an opportunity for voters to “reflect seriously on the way government has operated over the past five years.”
“People in every community can determine if Stormont has done enough to help them deal with skyrocketing fuel, food and energy bills, to deal with the crisis of hospital waiting lists, to put them and their families first,” he said.
“My clear view is that Stormont hasn’t worked for too many communities – and it’s time to elect political leaders who will put people first.
“This election is not about protocol or the position anyone holds at Stormont. None of this will heat a single home or get a single hospital patient the care they need.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said his party offered a “confident, positive and pro-union alternative that will work for everyone”.
“Moving away from Stormont will not solve the problem. The protocol needs to be replaced with a solution that works for everyone, so we can focus on rebuilding the NHS, driving economic recovery and tackling the rising cost of living,” he said.
“Politicians should not abandon their posts at this time,” he said.
Alliance party leader Naomi Long said her party was strongly tipped to make a “seismic breakthrough, which could change the way Stormont works…History is to be made on Thursday”.