THE British government will introduce legislation today to extend the period for the formation of a new Northern Ireland Executive to January 2024, it has been confirmed.
Speaking this morning, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed the move, which the government claims is designed “to allow time and space for the NI parties to work together to return to government.”
Mr Heaton-Harris explained: “Over a year has passed since the then-First Minister of Northern Ireland resigned.
“Twelve months and one Assembly election later, it is disappointing that people in Northern Ireland still do not have the strong devolved government that they deserve.
“After considering my options, and engaging widely in Northern Ireland, I know that an election in the coming weeks will not be helpful or welcome.
“So, I am introducing a Bill to create more time for the Parties to work together and return to government, as Protocol discussions continue between the UK and EU.”
He added: “The restoration of the Executive, in line with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, remains my top priority. I will continue to do everything I can to help the Parties work together to make that happen.”
The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, due to be introduced to Parliament today, will extend the period by a year to January 18, 2024, while retaining the power to name an election date any time during the period, if necessary.
At midnight on January 19, 2023, the period for Executive formation under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation Act) 2022 came to an end, which placed Mr Heaton-Harris under a legal duty to hold an Assembly election within 12 weeks.
Today Mr Heaton-Harris will host NI party leaders at a roundtable discussion in Belfast, where he will "urge them to restore the Executive as soon as possible and note that an election may be called at any point during the extension period", a spokesperson for his office confirmed.
"Following his meeting with Vice-President of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic in Brussels yesterday, he will reiterate that the UK Government is working hard to resolve the problems caused by the Protocol, and the desire to see an agreed solution with the EU," they added.
"He will be clear that the extension does not influence Protocol discussions and that the UK Government wants to see a deal between the UK and EU as soon as possible."