Talks aimed at forming a new power-sharing executive at Stormont will continue, but will not derail the timeline for triggering Article 50, secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire, MP, told the House of Commons today.
"We do not want to see a return to direct rule," he said, the day after the deadline passed for Northern Ireland politicians to reach a power-sharing agreement, with no deal reached.
Brokenshire said progress had been made on issues such as budget, a programme for government and transparency and accountability, but it was "clear that significant gaps remain between the parties".
He said he was "in no doubt inclusive devolved government" is what the people of Northern Ireland want to see.
"This situation is not sustainable, and beyond a short period of time will have an impact on services," he said.
"This isn't what people voted for on 2 March," he added.
Brokenshire also confirmed that the situation in Northern Ireland would not lead to the triggering of Article 50 being delayed.
Legislation will be brought forward after the Easter recess, Brokenshire said, either to enable an executive to be formed if the talks succeed, or to set a budget for the region if no resolution is achieved.
Brokenshire's remarks come after the Times reported that ministers have conceded for the first time that Northern Ireland has the right to leave the UK and join the EU as part of the Republic after Brexit.
The failure to achieve a deal ahead of yesterday's 4pm deadline left Brokenshire with three options: a return to direct rule from Westminster, another snap election, or granting the parties more time for talks.
The Stormont Assembly collapsed in January when then-deputy first minister Martin McGuinness stood down over a disagreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP concerning a scandal linked to a botched renewable energy incentive scheme.
In the snap elections called in the wake of McGuinness' resignation, the DUP's lead against Sinn Fein was cut dramatically, from 10 seats to one. The parties then had three weeks in which to strike a power-sharing deal, but talks between Sinn Fein and the DUP broke down over the weekend.