Another Northern Ireland Assembly election will not break the deadlock and restore devolved government, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris plans to call a new poll after the deadline for power-sharing passed without agreement.
But Sir Jeffrey is urging the government to focus on negotiations with the EU over the Brexit Protocol instead.
In an interview for Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: “We want to see Stormont restored as soon as possible and actually, I don’t think an election takes us closer to a solution.
“Why not use the next few weeks to double-down on getting either a negotiated solution with the European Union or bringing forward the legislation in parliament which will resolve issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Let’s look at what’s happened in those six months since the last assembly election. We’ve had three prime ministers, Westminster at times has been in chaos. There’s been little focus on getting a solution to the protocol.
“Talks with the EU only started again a couple of weeks ago and even then, only at a technical level, not at a political level,” he added.
The Northern Ireland Protocol established a trade border in the Irish Sea to avoid one between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Northern Ireland secretary says he will call Stormont election after attempts to restore executive fail
Why is there still no assembly and what does Brexit have to do with it?
But unionists regard the UK’s commitment to the EU as a threat to Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
As foreign secretary, Liz Truss tabled the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to unilaterally override elements of the Brexit trading arrangement.
But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears keen to negotiate a solution, rather than risk a trade war with the EU.
Asked if that made Mr Sunak the DUP’s “worst nightmare,” Sir Jeffrey replied: “I don’t want a trade war with the EU…
“But I fundamentally want the ability to trade within my own country and that is what the protocol denies us and look, whoever is the prime minister in Westminster, I have to work with them,” he added.
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill described the delay in calling an election a “bizarre U-turn” by the Northern Ireland secretary.
She said: “This further adds to the uncertainly and instability in our politics… in the face of an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis.”
Watch Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Michelle O’Neill on Sophy Ridge on Sunday.