A Stormont election will not be held in December, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has said.

The cabinet minister said he had listened to “sincere concerns” across the region about the impact and cost of a fresh poll at this time.

He said he will outline his next steps in Parliament next week.

there had been speculation the poll would be held on 15 December.

Mr Heaton-Harris is legally obliged to call an election within 12 weeks of 28 October when the deadline for the Northern Ireland parties to form a fresh power sharing executive ran out.

The UK government could amend legislation at Westminster that would either extend or remove the time limit to allow more time to break the stalemate at Stormont.

A DUP boycott of the returned institutions, in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP), has prevented an administration being formed in the wake of the May election.

In a statement, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “At midnight on 28 October, I came under a duty to call an Assembly election.

“Since then, my engagement with the political parties has continued.

“I have had valuable conversations with people across Northern Ireland, including business and community representatives.

“I have listened to their sincere concerns about the impact and cost of an election at this time.”

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He added: “I can now confirm that no Assembly election will take place in December, or ahead of the festive season.

“Current legislation requires me to name a date for an election to take place within 12 weeks of 28 October and next week, I will make a statement in parliament to lay out my next steps.

“My objective, what the people of Northern Ireland deserve, is the restoration of a strong returned government.

“My duty is to create the right environment for the parties in Northern Ireland to work together to restore the returned institutions and deliver on crucial issues impacting Northern Ireland’s people.

“I do not take this duty lightly, nor do I overlook the very real concerns people have around their cost of living.”

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What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Responding to the delay, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson tweeted: “We need a razor sharp focus on getting a solution, whether by negotiation or legislation.

“There is no solid basis for a fully functioning Stormont until NIP is replaced with arrangements that unionists can support. Progress in NI only made when unionists and nationalists are aboard.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill has accused Mr Heaton-Harris of “more dithering and indecision”.

She said: “The British government are fueling the political instability caused by the DUP’s failure to recognize the result of the May election when the people voted for change.

“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.”

The protocol was aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland but has created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, causing resentment and anger among many unionists and loyalists.

The DUP has refused to return to Stormont until decisive action is taken over the treaty.

The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the agreement, either by way of a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation which would enable ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

Opponents have liked the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to “placing a gun on the table” at talks with the EU aimed at finding a solution and argues it breaks international law as well as risking a trade war.

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