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Northern Ireland Secretary of State confirms there will be no December election

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris speaking to the media outside Erskine House, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire© PA

Christopher LeebodyBelfast Telegraph

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has confirmed there will be no December election following his meetings with party leaders earlier this week.

Chris Heaton-Harris said he would “lay out my next steps” in a statement to Parliament next week.

Mr Heaton-Harris had been legally obliged to call an election following the passing of the deadline last week for an executive to be formed after the last poll in May.

The Stormont Assembly has been in flux since February when the DUP withdrew First Minister Paul Givan in a bid to push the UK government to act on unionist concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Heaton-Harris has not yet named a date for any future election.

In his statement, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “At midnight on 28 October, I came under a duty to call an Assembly election. Since then, my engagement with the political parties has continued.

"I have had valuable conversations with people across Northern Ireland, including business and community representatives. I have listened to their sincere concerns about the impact and cost of an election at this time.

“I can now confirm that no Assembly election will take place in December, or ahead of the festive season. Current legislation requires me to name a date for an election to take place within 12 weeks of 28 October and next week, I will make a statement in Parliament to lay out my next steps.

“My objective, what the people of Northern Ireland deserve, is the restoration of a strong devolved government. My duty is to create the right environment for the parties in Northern Ireland to work together to restore the devolved institutions and deliver on crucial issues impacting Northern Ireland’s people.

“I do not take this duty lightly, nor do I overlook the very real concerns people have around their cost of living.”

In response, former Secretary of State Lord Peter Hain told BBC Radio Ulster: “I am not surprised at all nobody thought an election would resolve anything. It gives me no pleasure at all to say this but I don’t think the secretary of state or government know what they are doing.

"They seem to be lurching from one problem to another. This is not a way to govern and not a way to try and resolve the very difficult problems.

"Rule number one for any Secretary of State, if you set a deadline you have to meet it. The fundamental problem is there are no solutions yet to the problems the protocol has caused. The rest of everybody in Northern Ireland wants serious negotiations to fix the bumps. These are fixable.”

On Wednesday, Steve Baker, a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, had insisted the date for an election would be confirmed soon.

Reacting to the news, Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Robbie Butler tweeted: “The correct decision by @chhcalling for the people of Northern Ireland. No election this side of Christmas.

"It’s imperative that all steps are taken to address the lack of an executive and the partisan NI Protocol. We ALL must do better for the stretched and beleaguered public.”

Alliance Party MLA John Blair wrote: “If the SoS [Secretary of State] is as concerned about the devolved institutions and the people of Northern Ireland as his statement says, then he will introduce the required reform to end this endless cycle of stand off, stalemate and ransom politics.”


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