The current British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has been retained in the position by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The news was confirmed just an hour after Mr Heaton-Harris went into Downing Street this afternoon.

It appears to confirm that there will now be a fresh assembly election when the deadline to restore the Northern Ireland Executive runs out on Friday.

Mr Heaton-Harris had promised to call one if the Executive is not reformed by 00:01 on Friday, as required by law, with 15 December been touted as a possible poll date.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to be recalled on Thursday. The Office of the Speaker said the requisite number of MLAS had signed a petition asking for the recall.

It only takes 30 of the 90 MLAs and the move was supported by Sinn Féin and Alliance.

The stated purpose of the recall is to elect a speaker and an Executive, including filling the posts of First and Deputy First Minister.

MLAs will debate a motion tabled by several of the Stormont parties.

It reads: "That this Assembly expresses deep concern at the deepening cost of living crisis; is further concerned that the ongoing instability at Westminster has compounded these financial pressures; and supports the urgent convening of an Executive to support our public services and provide urgent help for those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis."

But the DUP has not changed its position on a return to power-sharing and the positions cannot be filled without its support.

The biggest unionist party has said it will not re-enter the Executive until its concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol have been addressed.

It claims the protocol raises barriers to internal trade and effectively cuts Northern Ireland off constitutionally from the rest of the UK.

This will be the fourth recall of the Assembly since last May's election. On previous occasions, MLAs have used the opportunity to lambast the DUP over its position.

The DUP in turn has dismissed the recalls as "stunt" politics.

Meanwhile, the deadline to a Christmas election continues to count down.

Observers had suggested that were Chris Heaton-Harris to be moved on, it could have meant a deferral of an election, to allow time for UK/EU negotiations on the protocol to bear fruit.

Meanwhile, Mr Heaton-Harris' ministerial colleague in the NIO, Steve Baker, today issued a direct appeal on social media to the political parties from an event in Co Fermanagh.

He recorded a short video at a meeting of civic leaders in which the assembled group told politicians to "get on with it" and reform the executive.

NI election will not resolve protocol issues - DUP

Calling another Stormont election will not bring a resolution to the protocol dispute any closer, the leader of the DUP has said.

Jeffrey Donaldson said his party was ready to fight an election if the British government calls one.

The British government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation - the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - which would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

The European Commission has warned that such unilateral action at Westminster would be in breach of international law and could prompt retaliatory action.

Talks with the EU resumed recently, with both London and Brussels talking up the potential of reaching an agreed solution.

Jeffrey Donaldson said the decision on whether to call an election was a matter solely for the government

Mr Donaldson said the decision on whether to call an election was a matter solely for the government to determine.

"If they call an election on Friday, we will be ready," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"We will take our case to the country. We will seek to refresh our mandate because we want to get this protocol sorted out once and for all.

"As it happens, I don't believe an election will take us any closer to that. I don't think an election will hasten the day when the protocol is sorted out.

"But it is a matter for the government to take that decision and whatever happens we will be ready."

The oversight role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the protocol is one of the main sticking points in the stand-off between the EU and UK.

"Whether it's by legislation or negotiation, we want to see a solution that restores Northern Ireland's place within the UK internal market and removes the barriers to trade created by the protocol," Mr Donaldson said.