Northern Ireland Secretary confirms he will call Assembly election but doesn't set date

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has announced he will call a Stormont Assembly election but has not set the date.

In a press conference on Friday afternoon, he said he would provide an update after meeting the parties next week.

He also said he was considering the option of MLA pay.

Mr Heaton-Harris had suggested he would call the election at one minute past minute on Friday morning if power sharing had not been restored. He reiterated that call just two days earlier.

An election must take place by 19 January.

Speaking to the media in Belfast, Mr Heaton-Harris expressed his disappointment on the failure to restore devolution, saying he "was and always will be an optimist". He said he had met with the chief electoral officer on the logistics of an election.

He denied denied his decision not to call an election immediately was a U-turn.

"I am still going to be calling an election," he added.

"I completely understand that the big impasse for the unionist community is what is going on with the protocol.

"But as I continually say, the atmosphere in those talks is completely changed in recent weeks and I am optimist and I really do believe that we can get somewhere on those too."

He said the situation was "really serious" and would take "limited but necessary steps" to ensure public services continue to run and protect public finances.

"But there is a limit to what the secretary of state can do in the circumstances," he said.

He said joint authority was not something they were considering. Sinn Fein has said there can be no return to direct rule with the total collapse of the Executive and the government in the Republic should be involved.

"It is something that we will simply not consider. It is not based on the consent mechanism that is threaded through the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement," Mr Heaton Harris added.

"So we are where we are. I have limited options ahead of me," he said.

He said he would have to call an election in the next 12 weeks and he would detail more on that in the coming week.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris added: "I have had lots and lots of talks with all the parties and will continue to do so.

"I hear it when parties say that they really do not want an election at all but nearly all of them are parties who signed up to the law that means I need to call an election.

"So you'll hear more from me on that particular point next week."

It comes after the midnight deadline to restore power sharing expired.

The parties weren’t able to form an Executive after the election in May, due to the DUP’s boycott of the institutions in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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