Rishi Sunak‘s Northern Ireland the secretary is in desperate last-ditch talks with party leaders in Stormont as the region’s December election looms.

Chris Heaton-Harris, re-appointed to his post this week amid unrest with the Tories, has warned he will call a new poll if a Friday deadline is not met and the executive is not formed.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to run in the May election because of his hatred of the Northern Ireland Protocol in Brexit transactions, therefore, it has not been possible to form the executive power for six months.

The new prime minister has not changed the government’s position on the issue, and the deadline to form a new administration ends just after midnight early Friday morning.

Mr Heaton-Harris made it clear that if there was no Prime Minister by then, the UK Government would take responsibility for calling another election.

The Independent understands that the most likely date for a second election is December 15, although the law means it could take place anytime before January 19, 2023.

The DUP boycott is part of a campaign against checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea – the unionist party continues to insist it will not return to power-sharing until decisive action is taken to remove the protocol’s trade barriers.

The Tory government has promised to gain the power to scrap protocol checks through the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill unless the EU gives in and agrees to compromises in the Brexit deal.

Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said on Wednesday he hoped Mr Sunak would agree that talks were the “preferred option” to break the protocol deadlock. The pair are due to speak on Wednesday night.

The European Commission warned that any unilateral action would violate international law and could trigger retaliatory trade tariffs.

Talks between the UK and the EU recently resumed, with both sides discussing the possibility of reaching an agreed solution, but no breakthrough is expected before the election deadline.

Ahead of talks with the DUP and others on Wednesday, Mr Heaton-Harris tweeted: “My priority is for NI political leaders to come together and restore executive power … However, if the parties do not reform I will call an election.”

Deputy Mr. Heaton-Harris Steve Baker – the self-described “Brexit hard man” who came into government in September – told the DUP to “stifle” their position earlier this week.

But DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson said on Tuesday that the Sunak government needed to deal with the protocol “once and for all” before his party could consider a return.

The assembly is also called into special session on Thursday before the deadline. Sinn Fein want to try to elect a new Speaker – a prerequisite for an executive appointment – but it looks unlikely to happen as the DUP has made it clear it will use its veto power to block it.

Although Northern Ireland does not currently have a First or Deputy First Minister, other ministers who served in the previous mandate remained in their posts after the election in May.

But Friday’s deadline passes without a full executive in place, with ministers in place under interim agreements out of office.

As fears grow that Northern Ireland’s next budget could be botched, UK government officials are known to be drawing up plans to extend the powers of Whitehall civil servants.

Northern Ireland businesses are facing a “tipping point” and need help from the incumbent, chiefs of the top business body warned on Wednesday.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry bosses have said businesses need confidence from decision-makers, warning of a return to the power-sharing collapse seen between 2017 and 2020.

“We cannot repeat stagnation,” they said. “Today we call on all our political stakeholders in Stormont and Westminster to achieve resolution with the sense of urgency it requires.”