Direct rule could be introduced as result of no-deal Brexit warns Gove
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has warned that direct rule may have to be introduced in Northern Ireland as a result of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Gove was speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, where he opened the debate ahead of an evening of Brexit votes.
MPs will later decide whether they want the UK to leave the EU without a deal on March 29. They are also due to vote on the Spelman and Malthouse amendments.
Independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon said MPs, including the DUP, must give "due weight to the serious warning" issued by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service David Sterling about the "grave consequences" if there is a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Gove said she was "absolutely 100% totally right", adding legislation issued by the Westminster Government to empower Northern Ireland's civil servants to take decisions is "sustainable at the moment" and it is hoped the Executive can be restored.
"But it is also clear that the current situation with no Executive would be very, very difficult to sustain in the uniquely challenging context of a no-deal exit," he said.
"Now we, in the circumstances that the House has voted for no-deal, would have to start formal engagement with the Irish government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision-making in the event of that outcome, and that would include the very real possibility of imposing a form of direct rule.
"Now that is a grave step and experience shows us it's very hard to return from that step, and it'd be especially difficult in the context of no-deal."
In response, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said Mr Gove's comments are "conclusive evidence that the British government has turned its back on the principles underpinning the Good Friday Agreement."
“These comments are a blatant attempt to penalise those of us in Ireland including the progressive parties in the north and the Irish Government who have stood up to British attempts to bully us into accepting a disastrous Brexit position.
“I cannot overstate the grave implications if the British government follows through on these threats."
As things stand the UK will leave the EU on March 29 without a Brexit withdrawal agreement in place.
MPs once again overwhelmingly rejected Mrs May's Brexit deal on Tuesday evening.
The Commons will vote on a non-binding government motion rejecting a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday.
Northern Ireland has been without an Executive since the Stormont Assembly collapsed in 2017 in a row over the RHI scandal and equality issues.
Attempts at restoring the institutions have proved fruitless, with the DUP pulling the plug on talks in February last year, after an agreement looked close.
The DUP and UUP have repeatedly called for the introduction of direct rule to allow for decisions to be taken in the absence of an assembly.
Despite legislative measures introduced by Secretary of State Karen Bradley, a number of government projects have been held up by the lack of Executive, with concerns persisting around the decision-making powers of civil servants.
Belfast Telegraph Digital