UK gives N. Ireland parties until Jan 2024 to form new government

Cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street, in London

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain announced a further delay to holding fresh elections in Northern Ireland on Thursday, giving parties until January 2024 to form a new power-sharing government and space for talks on the region's contentious post-Brexit checks to continue.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) began a boycott a year ago in protest at the checks on some goods moving from the rest of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland.

An election in May did not solve the impasse and London first pushed back the deadline to hold fresh elections last November as talks on revising the Northern Ireland protocol between Britain and the European Union gathered some momentum.

"I know that an election in the coming weeks will not be helpful or welcome. So, I am introducing a bill to create more time for the parties to work together and return to government, as protocol discussions continue," UK Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said in a statement.

He introduced a bill to extend the deadline, stating that if the parties were unable to form an executive by Jan. 19, 2024, the British government would again have a legal duty to hold an election to the devolved assembly within 12 weeks.

Heaton-Harris added that an election may be called at any time during the period, if deemed necessary or required.

Irish nationalists Sinn Fein, which advocate for a referendum on splitting from the UK and uniting with Ireland, overtook the DUP in the May election to become Northern Ireland's largest party for the first time.

(Reporting by Muvija M and Padraic Halpin; editing by William James and Kate Holton)