UK Stormont admits reality of deadlock, moves election ‘deadline’ to 2024 –

BELFAST – The UK government conceded effective defeat Thursday in an attempt by Northern Ireland politicians to quickly form a new power-sharing government, pushing back the date of the region’s next assembly election by a full year to 2024.

Thursday’s concession to reality by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, who initially claimed his hands were tied and that a rapid-fire new election was inevitable after the fall of the region’s cross-community government in October, capped months of emphatic but increasingly implausible statements. . .

A series of legislative amendments followed that extended the presumptive period in six-week increments. All these micro-moves are somehow calibrated to persuade the Democratic Unionists to end their obstruction of government formation at Stormont.

But the DUP – publicly committed to sabotaging Stormont until demands for post-Brexit trade rule changes are met – did not budge an inch in the face of Heaton-Harris’ threat of a snap new Northern Ireland assembly election. Talks between the UK and the EU on reforming the trade protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement for Northern Ireland look set to make a breakthrough soon. But compromises on the proposals may fail to meet key DUP demands, leaving Stormont deadlocked.

“Having considered my options, and having been heavily involved in Northern Ireland, I know that an election in the coming weeks would not be helpful or welcome,” Heaton-Harris said in a statement issued as she introduced new amendment legislation that would change her current election. . April 13 “deadline” in 52 weeks.

Heaton-Harris said the move would “create more time for the parties to work together and get back into government.”

He noted that the revised rules, set to pass all Commons stages by February 22, meant he would now not be legally bound to set a new date for the Northern Ireland assembly election until January 18, 2024. Under this new arithmetic, if the DUP doesn’t disappoint by then, the vote won’t take place for another 12 weeks, until April 11, 2024.

If such an election ever takes place, it would effectively replay the May 2022 vote that the Democratic Unionists narrowly lost to their Irish republican arch-rival, Sinn Féin. Far from fearing such a vote, DUP leaders told Politico they would relish a second chance in the hope of regaining at least some of that lost ground.

Sinn Féin currently holds 27 seats in the mothballed Assembly, compared to 25 for the DUP. The largest party holds the top power-sharing post of First Minister, a position long held by the DUP and never held by Sinn Féin.

But some political number-crunchers, including within the DUP ranks, see a clear path for the Democratic Unionists to regain their former position as the largest assembly party. Even if the DUP draws evenly on the number of seats, Sinn Féin will hold a potential tie-breaker with a larger share of the popular vote.