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An election in Northern Ireland will not remedy Brexit disagreements because it fails to address the “fundamental problem” of the protocol, a former NI secretary of state has said. Dame Arlene Foster told GB News that she was “not surprised” about the announcement from current NI minister Chris Heaton-Harris that there will be no fresh Stormont election in December despite his promise that it was definitely going to happen. She said an election would simply “bring the same parties back in the same strength that they are now” and would neither address the longstanding disagreements between the unionists and the nationalists within Stormont nor would it solve the trade dispute between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Dame Arlene said: “I was sitting here last week with Alistair Stewart talking about the election and about the fact it was going to be called.
“We had been told in the run-up to last Friday by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland that he was definitely going to call an election and it was definitely going to happen.
“Of course, it has not happened and I am not entirely surprised because, frankly, an election was not going to solve anything.
“It would probably just bring, more or less, the same parties back in the same strength that they are now, albeit there may have been changes around the aegis.
“So, what really needs to be done is to deal with the fundamental problem that is causing all of this, which, of course, is the protocol.
“We have been told now for nearly two years that this is going to be dealt with by our own Government and it hasn’t been.”
After days of speculation following the collapse of the Assembly, Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said there will not be an election in December. He said he will outline his next steps in Parliament next week.
Mr Heaton-Harris is obliged to call an election within 12 weeks of October 28 when the deadline for the Northern Ireland parties to form a fresh executive ran out.
A DUP boycott of the devolved institutions, in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, has prevented an administration from being formed in the wake of the outcome of the last election in May, which saw Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party at Stormont for the first time.
While a December election has been ruled out, it is understood that a poll in January is regarded as posing major logistical challenges.
Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill accused Mr Heaton-Harris of “more dithering and indecision”, and a “continuation of the Tory chaos in London”.
She said: “Chris Heaton-Harris has confirmed the bizarre U-turn he made last week but once again he provides no clarity or certainty on what his next steps even are.
“The British government and the DUP are leaving us in a prolonged state of political limbo with no Assembly, Executive or caretaker ministers.
“This is totally unacceptable at a time when workers, families and small businesses are struggling through the cost-of-living crisis and a cold winter, and when our health service needs immediate investment.”
She said Mr Heaton-Harris should outline imminently exactly what the UK Government intends to do to restore the political institutions at Stormont.
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But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has called for a “razor-sharp focus on getting a solution, whether by negotiation or legislation” to the protocol prior to another election.
“There is no solid basis for a fully functioning Stormont until NIP is replaced with arrangements that unionists can support.
“Progress in NI will only be made when unionists and nationalists are aboard,” he tweeted.
Mr Heaton-Harris has also been criticised by Labour former Secretary of State Lord Hain, who said: “Nobody thought an election would resolve anything, and why the government got itself into that position, who knows?
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