Downing Street 'not aware' of planned update on possible Northern Ireland Assembly election date

The secretary of state is set to meet with Northern Ireland political parties on Tuesday

Downing Street is "not aware" of plans for an election update in Northern Ireland ahead of meetings due to take place between the secretary of state and political parties over the coming days.

On Tuesday, Chris Heaton-Harris is set to meet with Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Alliance leader Naomi Long and UUP leader Doug Beattie.

The secretary of state failed to set a date for a new election on Friday, despite repeatedly indicating that he would as a legal deadline for calling a vote approached.

When asked if Mr Heaton-Harris would be providing an election update, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I'm not aware of any plans for that during those visits.

"The rules are the date needs to be announced as soon as reasonable practicable.

"But I don't have an update for you."

When asked if the election still has to go ahead, even if an agreement is made between parties in the coming days, the spokesman said: "Our sole focus is on the obligations and legislations placed on the UK and restoring stable, accountable and locally elected devolved government in Northern Ireland."

In a statement on Sunday night the secretary of state threatened to cut MLA pay ahead of the talks.

He said many people found it "unfair" MLAs continued to receive pay while government had not functioned properly since the last election in May. However, if he called an election all pay for MLAs would end.

Stormont institutions fully collapsed last week when a legal six-month time frame to establish a new Executive passed. That meant those minister who had been in place in a caretaker capacity left their position.

The DUP's boycott of the Stormont institution is part of a campaign of opposition to the protocol, and the party says it will not return to power sharing until decisive action is taken to remove economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation - the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - which would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

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