It’s stalemate once again at Stormont. As expected, the two main political parties in Northern Ireland failed to form an executive and devolved government at Stormont by the midnight deadline,  having been given a six month period after the last Assembly election. 

This leads the way for another  Northern Ireland assembly election, with the environment secretary Therese Coffey confirming they will “definitely happen” as there was not “sufficient agreement” between the parties to avoid an election. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris says he will be “providing an update” as his legal duty as the Secretary of State. Elections are expected to take place on 15th December and, according to Northern Ireland’s Chief Electoral Officer, Virginia McVea, would cost more than £6.5 million.

Once again, the road-block is the Northern Ireland Protocol. The  Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is boycotting the Assembly executive because of its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol which created a trade barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to ensure frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This outraged the DUP, who have continually said they refuse to nominate a Deputy First Minister until the protocol is abandoned.

Indeed, that Northern Ireland’s main unionist party is the one nominating a Deputy First Minister highlights the changing political scene. Back in May, Sinn Fein triumphed over the DUP for the first time, receiving 29% of the vote with the DUP managing just 21%. Yet perhaps the main story from the last election was the rise in the Alliance Party, which has sought to move beyond sectarian devices. 

But the nature of the Assembly’s electoral system – the Single Transferable Vote – gives the advantage to the two major parties, making gridlock even after another election appear near certain. Given Stormont has not functioned for four of the last six years, the sustainability of such institutions is up for debate. Even the King’s visit to Belfast after the Queen’s death, where he met the leaders of the five main political parties, was not able to provide a breakthrough. Finding a compromise may be the impossible task.

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