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New deadline for restoring Stormont Executive set to be February 8

A new deadline for resurrecting a powersharing Executive at Stormont is set to be fixed for February 8 (Liam McBurney/PA)
A new deadline for resurrecting a powersharing Executive at Stormont is set to be fixed for February 8 (Liam McBurney/PA)

A new deadline for resurrecting a powersharing Executive at Stormont is set to be fixed for February 8.

It is understood the Government will introduce a short Bill at Westminster on Wednesday to set the new date after the last one lapsed on January 18.

Under legislation governing the formation of a devolved administration in Belfast, the Government assumes a legal duty to call a snap Assembly election once a deadline for forming a ministerial Executive is passed.

However, in the face of a series of missed deadlines in the current powersharing impasse, the Government has repeatedly opted to pass fresh legislation to set new deadlines, rather than opting for an election.

Stormont Assembly
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted his party has yet to reach an agreement with the Government over post-Brexit trading arrangements (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris is set to do so again on Wednesday, albeit with a relatively short extension this time.

The move suggests the Government remains hopeful that a settlement can be reached within the next two weeks to enable powersharing to return to Northern Ireland.

The devolved institutions at Stormont have been collapsed for almost two years as a result of a DUP boycott in protest against the post-Brexit trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Senior DUP figures held discussions on Friday amid mounting speculation that the unionist party was preparing to make a call on whether or not to accept a Government deal aimed at addressing its concerns.

Ultimately no decision was taken at that meeting, with party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson dismissing suggestions that it was a make-or-break encounter.

However, party insiders maintain that the moment for the DUP to pass final judgment on the Government’s offer is approaching.

On Monday, Sir Jeffrey said an agreement with the Government over post-Brexit trading arrangements has still not been reached.

Instead, he said he will meet the Government again this week to address remaining concerns over the Windsor Framework that governs the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey must secure the backing of his party officers, and it is understood several of them believe the Government’s offer does not go far enough to warrant the party dropping its blockade on Stormont.

A loyalist activist group has launched a campaign calling on unionist politicians to remain out of Stormont until the so-called Irish Sea trade border has been removed.

Let’s Talk Loyalism has created a letter template for voters to send to unionist elected representatives that to return to Stormont without such a commitment would be a “dishonourable act of treachery”.