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DUBLIN — Northern Ireland will not face a pre-Christmas snap election — and may face none at all, the U.K. government announced Friday.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed his U-turn, which was first reported by POLITICO’s London Playbook, after previously insisting he would speedily call a new Northern Ireland Assembly election following the collapse of Stormont last week. Heaton-Harris’ aides strongly briefed the election would happen on December 15.
But Heaton-Harris confirmed no election would happen “ahead of the festive season.” He emphasized that he still faced a legal obligation to call a new vote based on “current” law — a signal that amending legislation to change this rule could be imminent.
“Current legislation requires me to name a date for an election to take place within 12 weeks of 28 October. Next week I will make a statement in Parliament to lay out my next steps,” he said.
Heaton-Harris faced strong all-party criticism over his initial public defense of the need for an election. He changed his position after meeting the leaders of four Northern Ireland parties Tuesday and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday. All advised him to avoid an election and focus on a resolution of the U.K.-EU dispute over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, the issue undermining continued power-sharing at Stormont.