The Deputy First Minister has warned the British government it would be a huge mistake for them to attempt to impose its welfare cuts agenda over the heads of the Assembly and the Executive.

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness was speaking after British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said her government would, as a last resort, take back power to legislate on the issue if Assembly parties refuse to make a move.

“Any move by the British Government to impose its welfare cuts agenda over the heads of the Assembly and Executive will seriously undermine devolution and the political institutions. It would be a huge mistake,” said Mr McGuinness.

“The Tory cuts agenda has led to increased hardship and poverty in Britain and will have the same impact on communities in the north of Ireland.

“It is wrong and unjust to punish those most in need. The parties supporting these Tory policies should reflect on the damage they will do to all our people.

“This Tory government appears to be willing to jeopardise years of political progress for its own narrow right wing agenda.”

The SDLP, which has also opposed welfare reform legislation, accused the government of giving in to the DUP on the issue.

"It is bad politics for London to give ground to the DUP before talks have begun or for London to think they can rewrite the Good Friday Agreement,” said Alex Attwood.

The news comes as the Assembly returns after its summer recess today with the Democratic Unionist Party promising it will not be business as usual at Stormont.