HomeEuropeUK delays deadline for breaking Northern Ireland’s power-sharing stalemate

UK delays deadline for breaking Northern Ireland’s power-sharing stalemate

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LONDON — The U.K. government has extended the deadline for restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland by six weeks, offering more time for the region’s parties to try to break a long-running political stalemate before facing the prospect of a fresh election.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said deadlocked parties would now have until December 8 to form a unity government, with scope for a further six-week extension “if necessary.”

Northern Ireland has been without a government since the assembly election in May, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to join power-sharing with Irish republican party Sinn Féin. The DUP is staunchly opposed to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol and has insisted it will not return to the fold until Britain ditches EU-required checks on British goods arriving at local ports under the arrangement.

Heaton-Harris has repeatedly threatened to call a fresh election if power-sharing does not resume, but an October 28 legal deadline to resolve the impasse came and went last month without London setting a specific date for a vote. By law, Heaton-Harris is obliged to call a fresh election within 12 weeks of the deadline for forming an executive passing.

Announcing the move in a statement to the House of Commons Wednesday, Heaton-Harris confirmed he would introduce legislation in the Westminster parliament to “provide a short straightforward extension to the period for executive formation.”

Justifying his continued decision not to trigger an election, the secretary of state argued most politicians in the region have told him that going to the polls in the next few weeks would be “most unwelcome.” Sinn Féin has openly questioned the need for another vote so soon after May’s trip to the polls.

“The one thing that everyone agrees on is that we must try and find a way through this current impasse, where I have a legal duty to call an election that few want and everyone tells me will change nothing,” Heaton-Harris said.

He added: “Thus I will be introducing legislation to provide a short, straightforward extension to the period for executive formation, extending the current period by six weeks to December 8 with a potential for a further six-week extension to January 19 if necessary.”

The extension “aims to create the time and space needed for talks between the U.K. government and the European Commission to develop and for the Northern Ireland parties to work together to restore the devolved institutions as soon as possible,” Heaton-Harris said.

Civil servants, currently keeping Northern Ireland’s government going in the absence of political masters, will be granted additional powers to run public services during the power vacuum, the U.K. minister said. Officials will be able to make “a small number of vital public appointments” to, for instance, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and address “serious budgetary concerns” in the region, he promised. The U.K. government will also seek to reduce salaries for members of the frozen assembly “appropriately,” Heaton-Harris said.

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