UUP's Nesbitt says Brokenshire could suspend Assembly and call RHI public enquiry if SF and DUP return to power after election
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt says Secretary of State James Brokenshire could suspend the devolved institutions and call a full-blown public inquiry into the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal if an election returns the same two main parties.
The Secretary of State is to address MPs and outline how he is dealing with the crisis later on Tuesday.
UUP leader Nesbitt said he held an extensive conversation with the Conservative minister on Monday night following Martin McGuinness' shock resignation.
He told the BBC: "I am concerned we are losing focus on RHI and that work could be done to bring forward legislation to introduce cost controls.
"We are losing £85,000 a day.
"I had an extensive talk with the Secretary of State and it is not beyond limits of possibility over course of whatever process we are going into we could have the suspension of the Assembly.
"And at that point nothing to stop James Brokenshire using his powers to bring full public enquiry under 2005 act into the RHI scandal."
Mr Nesbitt continued: "The Secretary of State says he will spend the week trying to avoid an election - that is his primary objective and that is understandable.
"But I think that is a pipe dream given what we are hearing from DUP and Sinn Fein.
"After that he says he will call an election within a reasonable time period which I would have thought would be late February or early March.
"After that it depends on the electorate.
"I would urge them to look at it as a referendum on RHI and also on 10 years of DUP and Sinn Fein in power.
"If it comes back as the same with the same two main parties and no Programme for Government agreed then he [Brokenshire] may have to suspend the institutions.
"And he is therefore free to call a public inquiry into the RHI scandal."
Since St Andrews the power to suspend the Assembly has been removed from the statue books, however, should an election result in further deadlock, the Secretary of State may have to work to re-introduce those powers.