LONDON (HPD) — The British government said Friday that elections in Northern Ireland to restore power-sharing regional government have been postponed until January because of problems holding them over the Christmas season.
Last week, efforts to end the impasse in the elaboration of post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland collapsed, which legally obliges London to call new elections to the regional Assembly (Parliament). Despite expectations that the election would take place at the end of December, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris refused to confirm a date during talks with local leaders last week.
“I have heard your sincere concerns about the impact and cost of an election at this time,” Heaton-Harris wrote in a statement. “I can now confirm that there will not be an Assembly election in December or before the festive season.”
Heaton-Harris noted that current law requires elections to be held before January 20, but did not give a date.
Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning government since February due to a dispute over provisions for Britain’s divorce from the European Union, which require customs checks on certain products shipped to the region from other parts of the UK. These provisions were necessary to allow the free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the only land border between the UK and the EU – and for the peace process that ended three decades of violence to work.
Resolving the dispute has been one of the most difficult aspects of Brexit, because it divides Northern Ireland’s two main parties, forced to share power under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to participate in the shared executive power since February because it believes that post-Brexit trade rules discriminate against Northern Ireland compared to other parts of the United Kingdom, undermining the traditional ties of the region with Great Britain.
The elections last May deepened the division because Sinn Fein, in favor of closer relations with the Republic of Ireland, outvoted the DUP to obtain a majority in the Northern Irish Assembly for the first time. Sinn Fein says the DUP undermines democracy by blocking the formation of a new government.