Election postponed

Election postponed

How Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley forged an unlikely friendship |  Independent.ie

There is much betting interest on the date of the next general election. Might it be in May, or November? The one thing we do know is that it can’t be any later than January 2025, because that’s the deadline set by law.

Of course, in theory, the law could be changed, although to do so would be a constitutional outrage barring some national emergency. Yet there is one part of the UK where this is happening right now, for a third time!

There was an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly on 5 May 2022. The DUP came second overall with 21.3%, first in the Unionist vote, but refused to participate in a new executive in protest over Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland. The law required a new election be held by 29 October 2022 if no executive was formed, but despite many negotiations, the DUP didn’t change their position. However, no new election followed. The UK Government just changed the rules, which required primary legislation in the form of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2022. This pushed the deadline to 19 January 2023. But still no executive was formed. So, a longer extension was introduced by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Act 2023.

The new deadline from the 2023 Act was 18 January 2024, so what happens now? Well, the Government introduced primary legislation to (retrospectively) extend the deadline, again, on 24 January. Supported by Labour, this was fast-tracked through Parliament and received royal assent the next day. It extends the deadline to 8 February 2024.

What is the point of a deadline that is never enforced? Why deprive Northern Ireland’s voters the opportunity to make their views on the DUP’s position heard? The new Act has kicked the problem to after the general election and Hilary Benn (Northern Ireland Shadow) will have to deal with it. (The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has published recommendations for how to reform the Assembly that he should consider.) Negotiations are continuing and it’s possible that the Conservative Government will get the DUP to return to Stormont, which would be a success for Sunak, although probably not one many GB voters pay attention to.

I can’t find any current betting markets on Northern Ireland elections, but hopefully there will be some in time. Betting on the next Assembly election would be interesting. Will voters punish the DUP? Polling puts the DUP up on their 2022 result, possibly at the expense of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), but still behind Sinn Féin. But while a hard line appears to be helping the DUP gain votes back from the TUV, more moderate politicians may also benefit. Alliance, who had a record high in the 2022 vote, are further up in Assembly polling too.

What about the general election, now likely to be before a new Assembly election? If there are individual constituency markets, North Down and Belfast East, the two DUP/Alliance battlegrounds, might be interesting. Keep an eye on whether smaller parties choose to stand or not. South Antrim as a DUP/UUP marginal is another to watch. Bets on the number of Alliance or number of UUP MPs may offer more opportunities than on the number of DUP MPs.


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