Lewis tells DUP to nominate deputy first minister and appears to rule out border poll

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has urged DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to nominate a Deputy First Minister to allow resumption of fully-functioning devolved government.

He also appeared to rule out calling for a border poll indicating Thursday's poll did not result in a nationalist majority.

Mr Lewis was speaking hours after the conclusion of a Stormont election which saw an historic victory for Sinn Fein to become the largest party and win the entitlement to nominate a first minister.

Sir Jeffrey has called for action on the Northern Ireland Protocol before re-entering the executive.

Mr Lewis is to meet with the leaders of the Stormont parties on Monday to talk about resurrecting the Assembly.

Speaking to UTV the Secretary of State said it was for the DUP to nominate a Deputy First Minister and to "get on with the business of government".

He said if the EU was not flexible on the NI Protocol, then the government would act.

"We have always said we take nothing off the table, but our first choice is to get an agreement with the EU," he said.

He said over the last few days it did seem the EU was not for shifting its position. Mr Lewis refused to set out a timeline on the government's course of action.

Asked why, on the eve of the election, he intervened to rule out government action on overriding the elements of the protocol, Mr Lewis said he was making a point there was never a plan to introduce legislation.

"What we have always said is we reserve the right to take action, if we need to," he said, "we want to get resolution with the EU.

"The best way is for the EU to show flexibility, if not then we will have to take action."

He said he wanted to see the Executive up and running as soon as possible and the focus should be on issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, health service reform and issues around the protocol.

"I am clear the DUP should be nominating and be getting on with the business of Stormont," The Conservative minister said.

On Sunday, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald again called for preparations for a border poll. She has said there should be a referendum within five years.

She said the election result, "demonstrates, I think quite dramatically, the change that's under way and we want that managed in an orderly, peaceful and democratic fashion."

On the possibility of a border poll Brandon Lewis reiterated focus should be on health, cost of living and the protocol.

"They are the issues both the UK Government and Stormont should be focused on."

He said it had been "very clear we had a significant election result".

"Obviously we have a Sinn Fein First Minister, Sinn Fein held their seats, they haven't gained seats but they did hold all their seats.

"We saw a big move in terms of gain of seats for the Alliance Party. Overall the number of seats held by unionists still outweighs nationalists, as does the vote.

"As I said the focus for all of us is on those domestic issues."

Northern Ireland Assembly Election 2022 results centre