Direct rule from London would need to be introduced in Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the British government has confirmed.
There has not been a fully-functioning devolved assembly or executive at Stormont since January 2017.
Michael Gove, the cabinet minister responsible for preparations for a no-deal Brexit, told the House of Commons that direct rule would be needed in that situation so the Northern Ireland civil service "gets the political and ministerial direction that it needs".
During a statement on the government's preparations for Brexit, Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon asked Mr Gove what the government planning for the "good governance of Northern Ireland" if Stormont is not back and running before 31 October.
She said: "Is it going to be direct rule, or not? It is a straight-forward question, I would very much appreciate a straight answer."
In response, Mr Gove said: "We want the assembly to be up and running. We recognise that time is short."
He added: "Direct rule, which ... is a step no-one would take lightly, would be required in order to ensure that the Northern Ireland civil service gets the political and ministerial direction that it needs."
Earlier, Mr Gove told MPs that Northern Ireland "will face unique challenges in a no-deal Brexit".
He added: "This arrangement settlement has been sustainable to date, but leaving without a deal would represent a formidable challenge to the current position.
"In that case, we would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision-making, and that would include the real possibility of restoring a form of direct rule.
"We will of course do everything to ensure that the interests of all communities across Ireland were safeguarded in any arrangements.
"We all must recognise that this would be a gravestone, from which experience shows us it would be hard to return, particularly in the context of leaving without a deal."
Loyalists will not tolerate an economic united Ireland, Johnson warned
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned that loyalists in Northern Ireland will "not tolerate an economic united Ireland".
The warning came as a host of loyalists gathered for a meeting at the Constitutional Club in east Belfast.
DUP councillor George Dorrian was among those in attendance.
Loyalist spokesman Jamie Bryson said there is "immense anger" within loyalism around the current Brexit deal.
The DUP has criticised the proposals, arguing they will put a legal, customs and economic border down the Irish Sea.
It is also opposed to the proposed consent mechanism, which would give the Stormont Assembly a say on whether or not to continue following European Union customs rules, but would not give the DUP a veto.
A pamphlet advertising tonight's event described Mr Johnson's deal as the "betrayal act".
Speaking to media after the meeting concluded, Mr Bryson said: "The unionist and loyalist community have had enough of this one-sided peace process, we're not going to tolerate an economic united Ireland and that was the feeling in the room.
"The anger is immense across unionism and loyalism, I can't think of a section of unionism or loyalism who was not represented here tonight in east Belfast so when you ask what was the outcome, no one group was behind this, it's not one group to come up with an outcome, this was the people speaking, this was the unionist and loyalist people speaking.
"They can take that message back to Boris Johnson. For three years Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government went to the European Parliament and everywhere else and said we can't have a border on the island of Ireland because it's a threat to peace, but it's ok we'll just shaft the loyalists and put a border in the Irish Sea.
"I think they are entering very dangerous territory at this point in time."
He added: "The message to the DUP is to stand firm, there was DUP representatives in the room tonight, they will have heard the anger from right across the unionist and loyalist community."
When asked whether he was "stoking up violence", Mr Bryson responded: "No sensible person wants to see violence, loyalism has spent three years reaffirming a commitment to peace, but ultimately loyalism's support for the peace process and the Belfast Agreement was predicated upon one very simple thing, the union is safe and the threat of violence has been used to undermine the union and drive us into an economic united Ireland and people can read into that whatever way they want."