Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan has announced his resignation from Stormont’s powersharing Executive.
The move is part of the DUP’s escalating protest strategy against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
It comes 24 hours after DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots acted unilaterally to order a halt to agri-food checks required under the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Civil servants have yet to implement the instruction and checks are continuing.
Mr Givan’s resignation automatically removes Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from her job because, under Stormont’s powersharing rules, one cannot hold office without the other.
Other Stormont ministers can remain in post but the Executive can no longer meet and is unable to take significant policy decisions.
Mr Givan told reporters on Thursday evening: “Today marks the end of what has been the privilege of my lifetime – to serve as the First Minister of Northern Ireland.
“When I first entered the Assembly 12 years ago, I never expected to have the opportunity to lead the Government and serve the people of Northern Ireland as First Minister.
“Holding this office is one that comes with a heavy responsibility and I have often felt the weight of this burden, to do what is right for all out people.”
He added: “Our institutions are being tested once again. And the delicate balance created by the Belfast and St Andrews agreements has been impacted by the agreement made by the United Kingdom Government and the European Union which created the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The consent principle is a cornerstone of the Belfast Agreement and it is my earnest desire that all sections of the community will soon be able to give consent to the restoration of a fully functioning executive, through a resolution to the issues that have regrettably brought us to this point.”
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis said: “The decision by the DUP to withdraw the First Minister from the Northern Ireland Executive is extremely disappointing. I urge them to reinstate the First Minister immediately to ensure the necessary delivery of public services for the citizens of Northern Ireland.
“The UK Government’s priority is to see a strong functioning Northern Ireland Executive delivering a better, more prosperous, shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland.
“We want to continue to build on the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement’s promise of a stable, cooperative and respectful power sharing Executive.
“The last two years since the New Decade, New Approach Agreement was reached has demonstrated the potential that can be unlocked when the Northern Ireland parties work together. We must not return to a state of political deadlock and inertia.
“I recognise the impact the Northern Ireland Protocol is having on the ground. The UK Government has been clear for some time that the Protocol has been causing serious problems, unbalancing the delicate and hard-won political stability in Northern Ireland.
“We remain fully committed to fixing the problems with the Protocol and to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions. We will continue our intensive talks with the EU in order to resolve these.
“I will be speaking to the leaders of the five parties of the Northern Ireland Executive, and the Irish Government, to encourage a return to stable devolved government in Northern Ireland.
“I hope that Northern Ireland’s political leaders will take the necessary steps to restore the stability in the devolved institutions that the people of Northern Ireland deserve.”