Northern Ireland Secretary 'will have to call election' in October if Stormont not restored

Shailesh Vara said he would have to call an assembly election in October if power-sharing is not restored at Stormont

Northern Ireland's Secretary of State has said he will have to call an assembly election at the end of October if parties cannot agree to restore devolution at Stormont.

Speaking to the British-Irish Association in Oxford, Shailesh Vara said he believed it was the duty of parties in Northern Ireland to re-establish power-sharing to spend money to help those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

Since the latest assembly election in May, the DUP has refused to re-enter an executive or nominate a speaker until its concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol - a Brexit trade deal agreed between the UK and EU - are resolved.

On Friday evening, Mr Vara urged parties at Stormont "in the strongest possible terms to work together to form an executive and address the issues that matter the most to people".

"There are people in Northern Ireland right now who are suffering," he added.

"Some don't know how they are going to put food on the table for their families and themselves.

"I believe it is the duty of their elected representatives to ensure there is an executive and assembly up and running so they can start spending the money that is waiting to be spent."

The Northern Ireland secretary also referred to the New Decade, New Approach agreement which he said provided a lengthy period for politicians to restore functioning devolved institutions.

In May's election, Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party. There have been three failed attempts to nominate a speaker to Stormont since then.

Mr Vara said: "Let me be clear, if the parties do not make full use of that time to earnestly engage to restore a fully functioning executive, then I will have to call an election at the end of October.

"This is not something that the people of Northern Ireland want or need, especially given the present economic circumstances.

"What people want is a fully functioning executive, taking decisive action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, improve healthcare, improve education and drive the economy to its full potential.

"I am in no doubt that Northern Ireland has the best of both worlds when it has a stable Northern Ireland Executive backed by the support and strength of the UK Government."

Mr Vara said there were real issues with the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is bitterly opposed by unionists, but added: "There is also a bigger picture here.

"We need to get back to finding some common understanding and a relationship of trust between friends and neighbours with a spirit of good intent and a willingness to make things better.

"A stronger UK/Ireland and UK/EU relationship is in all our interests, not least given the wider geostrategic challenges we face.

"Individuals and businesses look to their political leaders, on both sides, to make their lives easier rather than more burdensome.

"As politicians, and as legislators, if something isn't working, we make changes to find a solution.

"That is what we do - day in, day out, we find the possibilities and the room to make things better for the people we are elected to serve.

"I accept that the politics around this are difficult. But given the political will, this can be resolved."

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