O’Neill warns against winter polls as she calls to restore Stormont

Ms O’Neill repeated her call for power-sharing institutions to be restored immediately as she prepared to meet a senior US official.

Derek Chollet, an adviser at the US State Department, will meet political leaders at Stormont on Monday.

But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has repeated his warning that his party will not return to the Assembly or the executive until his demands on the Northern Ireland Protocol are met.

The people spoke and the people asked for a working executive, they asked for us to make politics work

The DUP is blocking the functioning of the devolution institutions in Belfast as part of its protest against the post-Brexit arrangements that have created barriers to the movement of goods between the UK and Northern Ireland.

The British government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either through a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed national legislation that would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without Brussels’ approval.

Relations between Britain and the EU appear to have improved since Liz Truss became prime minister, and London and Brussels have spoken about the potential for a deal through fresh talks.

Current legislation says that unless Stormont is restored by October 28, the Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris must call new assembly elections, something he has said he is prepared to do.

Speaking in Stormont on Monday, Mrs O’Neill said: “I will be meeting with Derek Chollet from the US Foreign Office.

What we must have agreed must be in accordance with the provisions of the protocol bill, otherwise it will not work

“He comes at a time when we are clearly rushing towards the October 28 deadline and we need to have a leader formed by then.

“I am very pleased with the role that the United States has always played and being a great supporter and helper for our peace process.

“We need to get around the board today, no more delays.

“Especially when you see the scale of challenges that we have to tackle as executives, not least fixing our healthcare system.”

Asked about the potential for an election before Christmas, Ms O’Neill said: “We shouldn’t have an election. We had elections back in May.

“The people spoke and the people asked for a functioning executive, they asked that we make politics work.

“And they asked that we work together to deliver for them. That’s where I remain committed. That’s where I want to be.”

Mrs O’Neill called on the UK government and the EU to reach an agreement within the framework of the protocol.

Sir Jeffrey told the BBC that there was now a “sharper focus” in the UK government on what needed to be done about the protocol.

He said: “I think the UK Government and our Prime Minister need to stick to seeking to achieve the objectives they have outlined in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

“We believe it represents an outcome which respects the integrity of the UK single market and Northern Ireland’s place within it, but which also protects the integrity of the EU single market.

“Nobody could be in doubt about what is required.

“It’s not just about dealing with the symptoms of the problem created by the protocol – in other words the controls – it’s also about legislative divergence, it’s about the fact that Northern Ireland is subject to laws introduced by an outside alien entity, the EU.

“What we must have agreed upon must be in accordance with the provisions of the Protocol Act, otherwise it will not work.

“If the government wants to see the political institutions restored, and I want to see them restored, then we need an agreement that meets the objectives of the proposed protocol.”

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