Northern Ireland

DUP warned over stalling Stormont’s return until after autumn Westminster election

Rishi Sunak is also expected to take to the road with a rival new year stump speech planned in the East Midlands
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. PICTURE: JAMES MANNING/PA WIRE (James Manning/PA)

The DUP has been warned against waiting for a Labour government to resolve its post-Brexit trade concerns after Rishi Sunak signalled that he may wait until the autumn before calling an election.

The Tory leader said he was working towards a polling date in the second half of the year after coming under pressure to call a vote soon.

The prime minister said on Thursday it is his “working assumption” that he would not be sending the public to the polls in the spring, as has been suggested by opposition figures.

Labour has claimed that a spring vote is the “worst kept secret in parliament” but one bookie quickly slashed the odds on an autumn election to 1/3.

Mr Sunak , who has until January 2025 to hold an election, told reporters: “So my working assumption is we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year and in the meantime I’ve got lots that I want to get on with.”

The Conservative leader declined to rule out a May election categorically but repeated his intentions to go for later in the year.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry, who will likely defend his North Down seat for the first time in a forthcoming Westminster election, said there was a need to restore the Stormont institutions immediately, regardless of the timing of a poll.

Alliance North Down MP Stephen Farry
Alliance North Down MP Stephen Farry

“It is time for decision making – whether we have an early or later election isn’t going to change the dynamics in the near future,” he told The Irish News.

“It may take quite some time for any new government to repair relationships with the EU and to negotiate something like a UK-EU veterinary agreement.”

David McCann, columnist with The Irish News, said Mr Sunak’s announcement “means that we are realistically looking at polling day being October onwards”.

David McCann
Irish News columnist David McCann

However, he warned that DUP hopes the party could delay a return to Stormont until after the election were likely to backfire.

“It will give breathing space for the first few weeks of 2024 to get an executive up and running,” he said.

“Should that not happen, the DUP now face an entire year of speculation about a potential Executive which could end up being a distraction for the party and coalesce the anti DUP vote behind parties like Alliance and Sinn Féin.”