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Government accused of 'handing propaganda coup' to SNP over English votes

Published 11/05/2016

Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling defended English votes for English laws
Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling defended English votes for English laws

The Leader of the House of Commons has rejected claims the Government's controversial English votes for English Laws (EVEL) handed a huge propaganda coup those seeking to break up the UK.

Chris Grayling said the "entirely sensible" move was designed to deal with resentment felt by English voters towards other parts of the UK.

He told MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee: "I have seen no evidence at all that this issue has played any part at all in any of the recent elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So, I don't think I have handed a propaganda coup at all.

"I see no evidence at all that this has made any difference on the ground at all to the politics of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland."

Under EVEL, it is up to the Speaker of the House to decide if a piece of legislation relates solely to England or to England and Wales to give the relevant MPs the opportunity to vote.

It has provoked fury, particularly from SNP MPs, who say that EVEL effectively creates two classes of public representative at Westminster.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson accused the Government of "playing to the right" and trying to "assuage" those they feared would turn to Ukip.

The Democratic Unionist added: "Y ou handed a massive propaganda coup to the SNP and those who wanted to break up this Union."

There was further opposition from Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon who said it was "very depressing" there were no plans to abolish EVEL.

SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell raised concerns about the impact EVEL would have on the Barnett Formula - the mechanism used to allocate public funding to the regions.

"Vulnerable regions like Northern Ireland might end up more vulnerable," he said.

Mr Grayling also told the committee he felt EVEL respected the constitutional settlement contained in the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

"I think it was absolutely faithful to the principles of devolution to accept the principle of a devolved United Kingdom but in order to strengthen the Union," he said.

"It is my view that in order to strengthen the Union; in order to ensure that we hold together the United Kingdom it would be immensely unwise to have a situation where English voters were frustrated by the Union.

"Therefore offering a degree of protection; a degree of devolution to the English which goes no further than saying 'you have the right to say no to having something imposed upon you that you don't want' doesn't actually create an English parliament (and) doesn't exclude Northern Irish MPs voting on English matters.

"It seems to me to be a very sensible balance of addressing the frustrations of English voters without undermining the strength of the Union."

The Conservative MP later added that the whole of the UK had been affected by the Troubles and had a vested interest in maintaining the peace process.

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