Britain rules out new elections in Northern Ireland this year

The announcement comes despite Northern Ireland being without a functioning devolved government since February.

Northern Ireland secretary
Chris Heaton-Harris arrives to attend the first cabinet meeting under the new prime minister in 10 Downing Street [File: Niklas Halle'n/AFP]

The British government will not call new elections in Northern Ireland before the end of the year, according to the British minister for the region.

The announcement came on Friday despite Northern Ireland being without a functioning devolved government since February, when the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) began a boycott due to Brexit trading agreements.

The UK government last week said it would call elections before the end of January, the second vote since May after London and Belfast failed to resolve the post-Brexit deadlock.

“I can now confirm that no Assembly election will take place in December, or ahead of the festive season,” Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said in a written statement.

“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.”

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that essentially ended 30 years of sectarian bloodshed in the region, nationalists and unionists are obliged to share power in a cross-community government.

Leader of the DUP
Northern Ireland’s DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson [File: Paul Faith/AFP]

The DUP has said it will not join a new government until checks introduced between some goods moving to Northern Ireland from the UK are removed.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson defended his party’s stance, arguing the protocol “harms our economy, harms our people and prevents us getting access to medicines and other vital supplies”.

Other Northern Ireland political parties said they did not expect a break to the deadlock; Heaton-Harris said he had listened to the “sincere concerns” across the region about the effect holding an election may cause.

After meeting Heaton-Harris earlier this week, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney raised the prospect of London changing the law to delay an election further.

Technical talks recently resumed for the first time in seven months on the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that mandated the checks.

Currently, Sinn Fein is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, replacing the DUP for the first time in the May elections.

Source: News Agencies