UK govt extends N.Ireland elections deadline
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The UK government announced on Wednesday it will push back a deadline to call elections in Northern Ireland caused by wrangling over post-Brexit trade rules.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said he would introduce a "short, straightforward extension", pushing back an initial legal cut-off by six weeks to December 8.
It will also include an option for a second, six-week postponement for calling a poll to January 19 if necessary, he told parliament in a statement.
"This aims to create the time and space needed for talks between the UK Government and the European Commission to develop and for the Northern Ireland parties to work together to restore the devolved institutions as soon as possible," he added.
He also said he would seek a pay cut to wages for regional lawmakers who have been drawing their full salaries despite the assembly shutdown since earlier this year.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin are due to meet at a British-Irish summit on Thursday.
Both Brussels and Dublin have recently touted a possible breakthrough in negotiations over the trade dispute in the coming weeks.
The elections announcement follows a sudden volte-face by London, which had vowed to call a fresh vote in December due to a boycott of the power-sharing government in Belfast by the largest pro-UK party in the British province.
Pro-Ireland nationalists Sinn Fein became the biggest party in elections in May for the first time in Northern Ireland's 101-year history.
But the Democratic Unionist Party is refusing to take its seats in the Stormont assembly because of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
The deal, signed by London and Brussels, effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the European single market and customs union, creating checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Unionists say the protocol threatens Northern Ireland's constitutional place within the UK by erecting a de facto border in the Irish Sea and want it scrapped or overhauled.
It was designed to prevent a "hard" border between Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland, as set out in a 1998 peace deal to end violence over British rule in the province.
London is risking EU reprisals by trying to unilaterally change the arrangements through legislation currently before parliament.
In Dublin, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said he welcomed the UK government's move, urging it to use the opportunity to "engage positively and with real urgency".