DUP leader: Another election will not break the power-sharing deadlock at Stormont

Another Northern Ireland Assembly election will not break the deadlock and restore devolved government, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris plans to call a new poll after the deadline for power-sharing passed without agreement.

But Sir Jeffrey is urging the government to focus on negotiations with the EU over the Brexit Protocol instead.

In an interview for Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: "We want to see Stormont restored as soon as possible and actually, I don't think an election takes us closer to a solution.

"Why not use the next few weeks to double-down on getting either a negotiated solution with the European Union or bringing forward the legislation in parliament which will resolve issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"Let's look at what's happened in those six months since the last assembly election. We've had three prime ministers, Westminster at times has been in chaos. There's been little focus on getting a solution to the protocol.

"Talks with the EU only started again a couple of weeks ago and even then, only at a technical level, not at a political level," he added.

The Northern Ireland Protocol established a trade border in the Irish Sea to avoid one between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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But unionists regard the UK's compromise with the EU as a threat to Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom.

As foreign secretary, Liz Truss tabled the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to unilaterally override elements of the Brexit trading arrangement.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears keen to negotiate a solution, rather than risk a trade war with the EU.

Asked if that made Mr Sunak the DUP's "worst nightmare," Sir Jeffrey replied: "I don't want a trade war with the EU…

"But I fundamentally want the ability to trade within my own country and that is what the protocol denies us and look, whoever is the prime minister in Westminster, I have to work with them," he added.

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill described the delay in calling an election a "bizarre U-turn" by the Northern Ireland secretary.

Speaking to Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday, she said the public "deserves sensible, mature political leaders working together to try and form a government".

She said: "I don't think it's lost on the wider public that the DUP don't like the May election result, I don't think it's lost on the wider public that they have difficulty in forming a government to be a deputy first minister to my mandate which is to be the first minister given the recent election results.

"I think it's not lost on people that that's the real motivation here. The DUP hide behind the issues of the protocol.

"What I want to see in the time ahead is very mature, sensible political discussion between both the British government and the EU side.

"Let's find an agreed way to solve the issues around the protocol, and I would make this case again to disagree with Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP - the protocol is a necessity and it is here to stay.

"There are things that can be smoothed out, there are things that can be made to work better, and I'm up for that and hope that's what we achieve in the coming weeks and months."