Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Nigel Dodds: Tory English votes for English laws plan is a constitutional mess

Ukip: The DUP will have to accept that a diminution of Northern Irish influence at Westminster is a just and natural consequence of devolution

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds

The Conservatives' "English votes for English laws" plan would create a "constitutional mess", the deputy leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has said.

Nigel Dodds said he felt the Tories' English manifesto, launched last week by David Cameron and William Hague, was "fuelling nationalist paranoia".

He also called for tactical voting by pro-union voters in Scotland, urging them to vote for the "unionist candidate best placed to win their seat" regardless of which party they represent.

Writing in the Guardian, he said of the SNP: "In a hung parliament, regardless of ideology, theses are not the politicians set on stability and good government. Yet whatever those of us who believe in the continuation of the UK as a pluralist, multi-national state might think, we mustn't allow ourselves to be provoked into behaving the same way. And this is where the campaign south of the border has so alarmed me."

Referring to the Tories' English votes for English laws plan as "Evel", Mr Dodds added: "It's not just a flawed political tactic, it's also a constitutional mess. The Commons can't be used as a part-time English assembly. It's the union parliament and abusing it in this way wouldn't and couldn't answer the very real needs England has.

"For far too long now we have blundered into unthought-out, one-sided constitutional change. This fatal habit has to end. Evel unfortunately, would simply be more of the same."

Launching the proposal last week, the prime minister said it was "simply unfair" Scottish MPs would soon be able vote on English income tax when English MPs could not reciprocate due to devolution.

"English votes for English laws is not about fragmenting the UK," he said. "It's not about division and difference and pulling apart, it is about making our United Kingdom stronger.

"Because if you have basic constitutional unfairness like we've had, if you have the people in one part of the UK feeling like they are getting a raw deal, then resentment festers and that undermines the bonds and the fellow-feeling that are the basis of the United Kingdom."

UUP peer Lord Empey also warned of 'dangers' presented by proposals for English votes for English law as it "would exclude non English MPs from vast areas of our nation’s legislation".

Lord Empey said: "I understand the natural reaction from many English representatives to the activities of Scottish Nationalists in particular, but over reaction plays into the hands of those who want to destroy the Union.

"I believe that all parts of the United Kingdom should play a full part in the work of both Houses of Parliament, but current ideas risk destroying this long established principle.

"As England accounts for 85% of the UK’s population it is understandable that English MPs want more say over their affairs as Scotland in particular is getting more powers to pursue its own agenda. However, creating a two or three tier Parliament won’t improve our Constitution.

"I strongly believe that a Convention or Commission on the Constitution is called for so that ideas can be thrashed out in detail and given proper consideration. Off the cuff proposals, such as some of those before us now, will weaken rather than strengthen the Union.

"We should be wary of Constitutional change made on the hoof without proper thought and preparation. The law of unintended consequences applies here and we musty tread carefully."

Ukip Westminster candidate for Mid Ulster, Alan Day, said that the SNP and DUP have "a lot more in common than many unionists would care to admit". 

Mr Day said: "Both arch-regionalists have found common cause over plans for English votes for English only legislation whilst both hoard power in a local Assembly/Parliament whilst simultaneously supping from the Westminster teat and blaming any woes on the UK government.

"It is this reason the DUP have often been called 'Ulster Nationalists' and it is this reason the DUP were excluded from the televised leaders debates including the recent one by Forces TV (an independent news organisation focused on all aspects of the British Armed Forces).  The DUP will have to accept that a diminution of Northern Irish influence at Westminster is a just and natural consequence of devolution and pseudo-Ulster nationalism opposed to ‘London rule’.

"If elected as MP I will not be voting on English or English & Welsh only matters and I will be calling for a constitutional convention to not only look into a devolved English Parliament but also full UK federalism, including the possibility of the House of Lords acting as a Senate representing the devolved nations."

Other Northern Ireland parties, including the SDLP and the Alliance Party, were asked for comment on the 'English votes for English laws' proposals but have yet to respond.

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