Stormont election deadline set to be extended and MLA pay cut

- Advertisement -

The Government is set to extend a deadline for holding an election in Northern Ireland and cut the pay of Stormont Assembly members.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is due to make a statement to the House of Commons later on Wednesday outlining his next steps in response to the powersharing crisis in the region.

A failure to form a Stormont ministerial executive following May’s election has placed a legal responsibility on the Government to hold a poll by January 19.

Mr Heaton-Harris has already ruled out a December election and asking voters to head to the polls in January would present significant logistical challenges, as it would involve a campaign that runs through the festive period.

The PA news agency understands the Secretary of State will extend the current January 19 deadline by six weeks, with an option to extend it by a further six weeks.

Cabinet meeting
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (PA)

Mr Heaton-Harris is also set to give extra powers to Stormont civil servants to enable them to run the region’s rudderless public services.

He is also expected to confirm plans to pass a budget for Stormont.

The moves expected to be announced later on Wednesday will require legislation to be laid and passed at Westminster.

It is understood Mr Heaton-Harris briefed the Stormont parties on his intentions on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday Downing Street said the restoration of powersharing was an “absolute priority” after the issue was the first item on the agenda at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

A DUP boycott of the devolved institutions, in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, has prevented an executive being formed in Belfast.

The region’s largest unionist party has made clear it will not countenance a return to powersharing until the protocol’s economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are scrapped.

On Wednesday, senior DUP member Edwin Poots insisted a cut to MLA pay would have absolutely “no influence whatsoever” on his party’s stance.

Queen Elizabeth II death
DUP MLA Edwin Poots (PA)

Extending the deadline would increase the likelihood of the talks producing something substantive ahead of any election date.

If a deal on the protocol was secured that convinced the DUP to return to a devolved executive the Government would likely come under further pressure to ditch plans for an election altogether.

The UK and Irish governments are both keen to avoid a scenario where Stormont remains in limbo next April when the 25th anniversary of the historic Good Friday peace agreement will be marked.

Existing legislation gave the Stormont parties almost six months to form an executive following the last election in May, which saw Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party for the first time.

The deadline to establish a new executive lapsed on October 28, at which point the Government assumed a legal responsibility to hold a fresh poll within 12 weeks.

Despite repeatedly vowing to set an election date the minute the deadline expired, Mr Heaton-Harris backtracked on his pledge, prompting Stormont parties to accuse him of a U-turn.

During Northern Ireland questions in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Heaton-Harris denied Mr Sunak had intervened on the issue to overrule him.

“I don’t believe I was overruled by the Prime Minister,” he told MPs.

“The issue for us is a principle, so cutting wages is neither here nor there in terms of the position that we adopt, it will have no influence whatsoever on our position,” the South Belfast MLA told BBC Radio Ulster.

“Should they entirely take the salaries away, that’s entirely up to the Secretary of State, but what he really needs to focus on is finding a solution to the problem that has been created, a problem that ensures that our assembly would be taking laws, our people will be taking laws, passed in the European Parliament, which would then be applied in Northern Ireland where we have no scrutiny, where we have no role, we have no impact – that’s legislation without representation.

“That’s something that was opposed in America many, many years ago whenever the British ruled in America and it’s something that I’d be very surprised that nationalist parties seem very up for – that laws can be made here in Northern Ireland, but they don’t actually have any influence on those laws.

“Secondly, the internal border has to go. These are issues that have to be resolved. They’re big, big issues. They will only be resolved between the European Union and United Kingdom Government.

“But we are not allowing things to carry on as normal as if this is OK. We gave them a period of grace at the outset to try to get the issues resolved, they weren’t resolved. There’s no grace left for the Government and European Union on this issue.”

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Latest Stories

- Advertisement -

UK News

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Read the latest free supplements

Read the Town Crier, Le Rocher and a whole host of other subjects like mortgage advice, business, cycling, travel and property.