Northern Ireland’s feuding political parties failed on Thursday to agree to restart power-sharing, paving the way for a second election this year amid an entrenched political stalemate over contentious post-Brexit trade rules. Northern Irish lawmakers briefly reconvened for the first time in months for a special sitting of the devolved assembly at Stormont, but failed to elect a speaker needed to form a new executive. The pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party blocked the resumption of power-sharing due to concerns about the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol governing post-Brexit trade. The party wants the protocol overhauled or scrapped entirely. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told reporters Thursday the party would not vote for a new speaker because insufficient action had been taken to address their demands since they collapsed the executive in February. “We need to remove the rubble of the protocol that has undermined our economy, that has inhibited our ability to trade within our own country,” he said ahead of the failed vote. Donaldson said the arrangements “changed our constitutional status without our consent” and were “harming businesses and driving up the cost of living for every single person in Northern Ireland”. However, Matthew O’Toole of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) said holding another election was a “farce” and that the continued boycott had left him “ashamed of this place”. “While this assembly sat mothballed and silent people’s homes have got colder, their trust in politics has fallen even further and their lives have gotten harder,” he said. New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s had implored the parties to “get back to Stormont”, arguing people there “deserve a fully functioning and locally elected executive”, his official spokesman said. Chris Heaton-Harris, Britain’s Northern Ireland minister for the last seven weeks, held talks with the political parties on Wednesday in a fresh bid to get them to form a new executive. If no agreement is reached by Friday, London will be legally required to call early elections for the devolved assembly in the volatile province, with December 15 the expected date. “If the executive is not formed by 28 October, I will call an election,” the minister had said in a statement. “Time is running out.” Northern Ireland has now been without a functioning government for nine months, with pro-Irish party Sinn Fein winning a historic first election in May which is seen as further complicating the political situation. Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill — set to become first minister if the executive can be restarted — condemned the DUP’s “perpetual standoff with the public, the majority of whom they do not speak for or indeed represent”. The DUP insists the protocol — agreed by London and Brussels as part of Britain’s 2019 Brexit deal — must be addressed first. It claims the pact, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European Union’s single market and customs union, weakens the province’s place within the United Kingdom. Many unionists also argue it is threatening the delicate balance of peace between the pro-Irish nationalist community and those in favour of continued union with Britain. The protocol was agreed to avoid the return of a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland, which remains an EU member. Eliminating that hard border was a key strand of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Britain’s Conservative government, which has had three prime ministers in two months, has urged Brussels to agree to wholesale revisions of the protocol. London is also in the midst of passing contentious legislation to override it unilaterally. That has sparked fears of a trade war and worsening relations with Europe when the economic landscape is already gloomy. The impasse was discussed in a phone call on Wednesday between Sunak and Irish premier Micheal Martin. Sunak also spoke by phone to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said on Twitter that she hopes to find “joint solutions under the protocol… that will provide stability and predictability”.