UK Won’t Call Further Northern Ireland Election Immediately
(Bloomberg) -- The UK won’t call an election in Northern Ireland immediately after a deadline for the devolved government to be formed expires tonight, but will consider all options as negotiations with the European Union on the region’s post-Brexit status progress continue.
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“I will use the next few weeks I have available to me to assess carefully all options about what happens next and to continue to talk to all interested parties before I make any decisions,” UK Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris wrote in the Irish Times and on Twitter Thursday.
Progress in negotiations between the UK and EU government over the Northern Irish Protocol — the part of the Brexit treaty which deals with the region — may also help resolve the political impasse, Heaton-Harris indicated following a meeting with Irish lawmakers in Dublin late Thursday.
“There are also important talks going on in Brussels between the UK government and the European union and if we can solve one problem we might be able to solve another, so I think it’s worth me taking the time to consider my position,” he said.
The region’s power-sharing government has not functioned since February, with the Democratic Unionist Party blocking its formation in protest at the terms of the original Brexit deal, which keeps Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market to avoid creating a hard border on the island of Ireland.
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An election in May saw nationalist party Sinn Fein become the biggest party in Northern Ireland for the first time.
The UK has to announce an election within 12 weeks of tonight’s deadline for the region’s executive to be formed after a previous deadline in November was extended.
“We have to allow space and time” in respect of the talks between the UK and EU, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said following the meeting. “The issues are very challenging so I don’t understate the formidable challenges and the mountain that has to be climbed, but I do think it’s worth the effort.”
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--With assistance from Ellen Milligan.
(Updates with comments from Heaton-Harris, Micheal Martin after meeting)
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