The midnight deadline for Northern Ireland’s politicians to restore the executive is looming, with the DUP set to veto the election of a new speaker in today’s special sitting of the assembly, which is required to appoint an executive.

Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, held talks with party leaders, in an eleventh-hour attempt to reinstate the devolved government before tonight’s deadline to call another election.

If, as expected, the executive is not restored today, Heaton-Harris will be required to call an election within 12 weeks; Heaton-Harris has ruled out the possibility of delaying a new election, hoping that he could force the DUP to return to Stormont

The DUP has so far prevented the forming of a government, in a protest against the Irish Sea border set out under the Northern Ireland Protocol

The power-sharing executive, established by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, ensures that unionists and nationalists share the governance of Northern Ireland. But this structure could be thrown into question, especially if there is low turnout in the election.

Just seven months ago, Sinn Féin overtook the DUP to become the largest party, but the devolved government has not been able to function because of the DUP’s block – as it hasn’t for four of the past six years.

If an election is called, it will likely be held on 15 December.

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