'Forgive me for thinking:' Northern Ireland Secretary of State defends election delay

  • UTV's Political Editor Tracey Magee speaks to Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris

The Secretary of State has defended lodging plans to delay a legal responsibility to call an election saying he is giving Stormont parties more time to get back into the Executive.

Speaking after he announced he was postponing calling a date for fresh Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Chris Heaton-Harris said the government is extending the deadline and cutting MLAs' pay.

The deadline to establish a new executive lapsed on 28 October.

At which point the government assumed a legal responsibility to hold a fresh poll within 12 weeks - 19 January.

Mr Heaton-Harris said he was now extending the deadline for parties to form an executive by six weeks to 8 December, with the option of a further six-week extension.

With the Stormont deadlock intrinsically linked to the dispute over Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol, the move is designed to provide more space for a deal to be struck between Brussels and London over the contentious Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Speaking to UTV's Political Editor Tracey Magee, the Secretary of State said he is paving the way for talks.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: "Today what I've announced has cleared the space for two lots of very important conversations to take place between us, the UK government and the European Commission and between the parties and indeed me to try and get people back into the Executive."

When put to Mr Heaton Harris that he had been on the wrong path and had had a rethink, he replied: "Forgive me for thinking."

Mr Heaton Harris was also asked about the potential for a UK-EU deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said: "I'm a glass-half-full person and I think all the noises coming from Brussels, all the noises coming from London, the interaction between my Prime Minister and Ursula Von Der Leyen at the COP meeting earlier in the week lead me to believe that we can be in the right space."

It comes as speculation mounted on Wednesday evening about whether the Secretary of State had resigned.

He quickly moved to dispel those reports on twitter.

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