The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has invited Stormont leaders to hold fresh talks ahead of an upcoming election deadline in the region.

Chris Heaton-Harris has asked key parties to attend a meeting next Wednesday.

Mr Heaton-Harris held similar roundtable talks with the parties last month as he stepped up efforts to resolve the current power-sharing deadlock in Stormont.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also traveled to Belfast last month to discuss the political problem with Stormont leaders.

Devolution has been underway since February, when the DUP withdrew its prime minister from the Council of Ministers in protest at Northern Ireland’s Brexit protocol. If a new executive is not formed by January 19, the government will assume legal responsibility to call snap general elections before April 13.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was re-appointed for a second term as Taoiseach last month, will visit Northern Ireland before the deadline.

Talks between the UK and the EU to resolve the deadlock over the disputed trade protocol are ongoing and both sides believe a deal is possible. The DUP has made it clear that it will not allow a return to power-sharing until radical changes to protocol are made.

The region’s biggest unionist party blocked the formation of a new government after May’s general election and prevented the Assembly from passing legislative deals as part of its protest against Irish Sea trade deals.

It claims that the protocol undermined Northern Ireland’s place in the UK by creating economic trade barriers to trade from the UK to the region.

Mr Heaton-Harris has cut MPs’ salaries by 27.5% to show they are not currently doing their jobs as lawmakers.

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