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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris
# Northern Ireland
NI Protocol talks between UK and EU ‘will continue’ if snap Stormont election called
A previous round of talks between the EU and the UK were paused ahead of the last Stormont Assembly election in May

TALKS BETWEEN THE UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol would not be shelved if a snap Stormont election was called, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

Chris Heaton-Harris said negotiations to break the impasse over the contentious post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements will continue “no matter what”.

He also warned the region’s Assembly members that he will look at cutting their pay if they fail to form a functioning executive before next week’s deadline.

The DUP has blocked the formation of a fully functioning ministerial executive since May’s Assembly election as part of its protest against the protocol.

embedded269331642 PA Jeffrey Donaldson PA

The party has made clear it will not re-engage with powersharing until economic barriers on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland are removed.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and senior party colleagues held talks with Prime Minister Liz Truss on the issue at Downing Street this afternoon.

Following the DUP’s meeting with Truss, a DUP spokesperson said they discussed current issues related to the protocol.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s ongoing commitment to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill,” they said.

“We reiterated our position on the need to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom so that we can have fully functioning political institutions in Northern Ireland.”

If a devolved administration is not established by the 28 October deadline, Heaton-Harris has made clear he will fulfil his legislative obligation to call another Assembly election, with 15 December emerging as the likely date.

The Conservative MP held talks with Minister for Foreign Affiars Simon Coveney today in Belfast.

Afterwards, Coveney said it was clear Heaton-Harris was “not bluffing” on his intention to call an election.

The UK Government minister, who said he would announce the election date “immediately” after the deadline passes, said London and Brussels had been trying to assure the DUP it could re-enter powersharing confident that both sides were working constructively to find a solution on the protocol.

A previous round of talks between the EU and the UK were paused ahead of the last Assembly election in the spring, with both sides acknowledging that continuing the process amid a potentially polarising campaign could be counterproductive.

Heaton-Harris suggested a different approach would be adopted if another election was called.

“The talks between the UK Government and the European Union will continue no matter what,” he told reporters in Belfast.

“They might move on. As you have probably detected, I’m a glass half full man on these matters and I know the talks are going ahead in good faith and good spirit and good humour. So I’m confident they will continue.

“Everyone’s been trying to demonstrate that these are talks that are happening and being positive about getting outcomes to demonstrate that hopefully, to the people, the unionist community here, that their politicians can go back into the executive because things are moving in this space.

“I’m not in charge of the negotiations – that’s James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary – but I fully expect those talks to continue.”

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Press Association
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