Incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak has been told by DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that he must deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol if he wants to see Stormont restored.
Northern Ireland’s political leaders have been reacting to the news that the former chancellor will be the next prime minister, with the leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, Naomi Long, urging him to reform the devolved powersharing institutions.
One of the pressing issues facing Mr Sunak will be the political crisis in Northern Ireland where there has been no functioning Assembly for months due to the DUP protest against the workings of the post-Brexit protocol, which has created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either through a negotiated compromise with the EU or domestic legislation to empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.
If the Stormont institutions are not restored by Friday, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has pledged that he will call fresh Assembly elections.
In his message to the new prime minister, Sir Jeffrey said: “There may be a focus on the unity of the Conservative Party, but the unity of our United Kingdom must be protected.
“The protocol is incompatible with the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
“If the prime minister wants to see a fully functioning Stormont, then he must deal with it once and for all.
“Delivering that solution would be a very powerful signal that he is focused on building a better future for everyone.”
Mrs Long urged Mr Sunak to take a “fresh approach” to political problems in Northern Ireland.
She said: “Northern Ireland needs stable and sustainable government.
“Rishi Sunak needs to recognise, even if a solution to the protocol can be agreed with the EU, there remains an inherent instability at the heart of our institutions.
“The protocol is only the latest in a long line of grievances to have collapsed Stormont.
“Until the institutions are reformed to remove the vetoes the largest parties wield over Executive formation, the crisis-collapse cycle will continue.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the process of appointing Mr Sunak as prime minister was a “farce” and called for a general election.
The Foyle MP added: “Mr Sunak’s predecessors have completely destroyed the public’s confidence in politics and public service and wrecked the economy and he should not be allowed another two years to desperately attempt to clean up their mess.
“The circus that has surrounded British politics has to end and the only way to do that is through a general election and the establishment of a Labour-led government.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said the UK was desperate for a strong and stable government.
He added: “Northern Ireland needs better government and that means the restoration of the devolved institutions.
“One of the new prime minister’s priorities must be resolving the political impasse and dealing with the issues caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Northern Ireland cannot continue to be used as political football between the United Kingdom and the EU. The protocol must be replaced with a deal that works for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said she hoped Mr Sunak’s victory would lead to “economic stability and political certainty”.
Ann McGregor said: “Given the significant fiscal pressures we face and with only days left until Northern Ireland could find itself without devolved ministers, we would urge the new prime minister and the UK Government to do all that they can, without delay, to work with local parties to restore a fully functioning Executive.”