The North's power-sharing institutions were in crisis on Thursday following the resignation of First Minister Paul Givan in the latest move in the DUP's campaign against the Northern Ireland protocol.
Mr Givan’s departure, which took effect from one minute after midnight, means the Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, also ceases to hold office and the Northern Executive cannot function.
Other Ministers remain in post, which will permit the Assembly to continue to operate in a limited fashion, though no new or significant decisions can be taken.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he was clear the protocol "represents an existential threat to the union and to the future of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom", and he had no choice but to act.
Mr Donaldson on Friday said he had spoken with UK prime minister Boris Johnson who had told him there was only a “20 percent to 30 percent chance” of agreement being reached between Britain and the EU by the January 31st.
Mr Donaldson told RTÉ radio that the Assembly could continue to operate as a legislature and that legislation would continue “right up to the date” when it was dissolved for the election.
Post-Brexit checks at the North’s ports continued despite the order by the DUP Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots that they be suspended.
The North's Minister for Health, Robin Swann of the UUP, said he had sought "urgent legal clarification" regarding the decision on lifting the remaining Covid-19 restrictions, due to be taken by the Executive next week.
Discussions were under way on Thursday evening to try and fast-track legislation and other outstanding Assembly business, including an apology for victims of historical institutional abuse.
Under legislation expected to be completed at Westminster next week, which will apply retrospectively, the Assembly can continue in this manner for an initial six-week period, which can be further extended.
Assembly elections are due to be held in Northern Ireland in May, although they could be brought forward.
The DUP's action was strongly condemned by the other parties in the Northern Executive and by the Irish Government. A spokesman for Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was "deeply concerned" and described Mr Givan's resignation as a "very damaging move".
Peace and stability
He said "current talks between the EU and the UK must be given every chance to succeed" and the European Commission "has put forward serious proposals which directly address the concerns about outstanding issues on implementation of the protocol.
“I would urge the DUP to return to full engagement with all the institutions of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement and avoid any action that could damage peace and stability in Northern Ireland.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for an early election, saying “We cannot stagger on in the months ahead without a functioning executive and Sinn Féin will not facilitate this.”
The British government expressed disappointment at Mr Givan’s resignation and called on the DUP to reinstate a first minister immediately.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss had a scheduled call with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday as part of the ongoing talks over the protocol.