Stormont Assembly election is ‘last resort’ – Sir Iain Duncan Smith

A fresh Stormont Assembly election is the “last resort”, a former leader of the Conservative Party has said.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith was speaking after devolved government in Northern Ireland collapsed following months of ministers being unable to use their full powers.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris is legally obliged to call an election following the passing of the deadline last week for an executive to be formed after the last poll in May.

The Stormont Assembly has been in flux since February when the DUP withdrew First Minister Paul Givan in a bid to push the UK government to act on unionist concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Conservative Party Conference 2022
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Aaron Chown/PA)

However, ministers were able to remain in post with limited powers until the deadline for a new executive to be formed.

Mr Heaton-Harris has not yet named a date for an election.

On Wednesday, Steve Baker, a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, insisted the date for an election will be confirmed soon.

Sir Iain described another election as “the last resort”, adding that he does not believe people want it.

He described the protocol as the “great elephant in the room of all of this”.

He urged the EU to be open to finding a resolution with the UK over the protocol, telling the BBC: “At the moment they sort of refuse to discuss the ending of the protocol and the institution of a better way of doing things”.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has urged the UK Government to trigger Article 16 to suspend elements of the post-Brexit arrangement.

That is an agreed mechanism within the protocol that allows either the UK or EU to suspend parts of the arrangements if they consider them to be causing economic, societal or environmental harm.

Triggering Article 16 would prompt a fresh round of negotiations between the EU and UK to resolve the issues.

Mr Beattie said: “The opportunity exists to pause the calling of an election and allow negotiations between to the United Kingdom and European Union to continue in earnest.

“We believe that the time is right for the UK to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to facilitate this.

“A negotiated outcome which removes the Irish Sea Border will be the remedy, not rerunning an election we had six months ago.

“It is clear that the atmosphere and willingness to address the problems created by the protocol are currently in a much different place than they have been.

“They should be given time and space to continue as long as progress is being made.

“After all this time I think it would be madness for the UK Government to jeopardise that because they have got themselves on a hook over the election that they are too embarrassed to be seen to climb down from.”