Northern Ireland Secretary rules out early Stormont election

Sinn Féin and the DUP have called for the poll scheduled for May 5 to be brought forward, following the resignation of First Minister Paul Givan over Brexit Protocol negotiations

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The Northern Ireland Secretary has appeared to rule out calling an early Assembly election.

Brandon Lewis was speaking after calls by Sinn Féin and the DUP for the poll scheduled for May 5 to be brought forward.

It follows the resignation of First Minister Paul Givan last week over what the DUP regards as a lack of progress in negotiations to tackle issues with the Brexit Protocol.

Mr Givan’s resignation also forced deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from the joint office.

However other Executive ministers remain in place and the Assembly is continuing to sit with a number of pieces of legislation being progressed.

Mr Lewis said to the BBC “it is right” that the election takes place on May 5.

The resignation of Northern Ireland’s first minister “will not fundamentally alter” the UK’s negotiations with the EU over the Brexit protocol, Conor Burns has said.

The Northern Ireland Office minister also repeated the Government’s call for the DUP to reinstate a first minister following the removal of Paul Givan over what the DUP regards as a lack of progress in negotiations to tackle issues with the protocol.

“I have to say very candidly that the Government is clear on our intentions with the (European) commission on the protocol and the withdrawal of the first minister will not fundamentally alter the Government’s determination to carry on engaging with the commission to find resolution, to find solutions to the situation in Northern Ireland, recognising the uniqueness of the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom single market but also buttressing against the single market of the European Union in the form of the Irish Republic,” he told the Northern Ireland Affairs committee.

“From a UK Government point of view, in terms of protocol conversations, the plan is clear and the plan is continuing to be played out led by the Foreign Secretary.”

Mr Burns said the Government “profoundly regrets” the withdrawal of the first minister and have “urged the DUP to get the first minister back in”.

He said “we’ve been here before”, but added there is a fundamental difference to the position now as ministers are still in place and the Assembly is still sitting.

“We have not actually witnessed a collapse of the institutions in the way they had before,” he said, adding he noted a “degree of positioning” ahead of the Assembly elections.

He said he believed there would be a “very different reaction” from parties if they were two or more years away from the next election.