The chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has slammed his own Government's plan to reintroduce double jobbing as a “thoroughly bad idea”.
Conservative MP Simon Hoare was speaking after the plans emerged that would allow MPs to serve both in the Assembly and Westminster, bringing Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.
Details of the proposals were outlined in a letter from NIO junior minister Lord Caine to fellow peers on Friday and would see double jobbing allowed until the next Westminster election, due to take place in 2024.
The practice of double jobbing — also known as a dual mandate — was banned in Northern Ireland back in 2016 following the MPs expenses scandal.
The latest proposals had been supported by Lord Alderdice, who argued that dual mandates would encourage easier transitions between serving in London and Belfast, while also benefitting the Assembly.
Four of Stormont’s five Executive parties are against the plans, while the DUP appear to be in favour. Labour’s Shadow NI Secretary Peter Kyle has also called on the Government to withdraw the proposals — despite the party originally putting forward the original amendment last year.
The plans, if they go ahead, could be to the advantage of the DUP, as party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson previously said he would give up his Westminster seat to run on an Assembly ticket. If he was elected to the Assembly, under the current rules he would have to stand down as an MP and this would trigger a by-election in his Lagan Valley constituency. However, if double jobbing is once again permitted, he could run for an Assembly seat safe in the knowledge his spot at Westminster is secure.
In a one-line statement to the Belfast Telegraph, Simon Hoare said, in his personal view, the reintroduction of double jobbing is a “thoroughly bad idea in any event and even more so given how close we are to Stormont elections”.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said there was no consultation about the proposals to permit double jobbing again and the current arrangements were introduced to end “multiple abuses and there are likely to be further abuses triggered by this decision”.
“The question it raises is why now, just in the mouth of an Assembly election? It looks like a desperate attempt to shore up the DUP by allowing their MPs to double-job,” he said.
“I have submitted an amendment to restore the mechanism agreed in 1998 for the election of First and Deputy First Ministers yet the Government is refusing to take it because it doesn`t have cross-party support. This is despite the huge damage the changes made in 2006 following St Andrews has caused, but the Government seems quite content to allow double jobbing again without any consensus whatsoever. They are making a huge mistake by hitching their wagons to the DUP. They are undermining confidence in our democratic institutions with this ham-fisted approach and unilateral and misguided decisions like these could put the lights out at Stormont permanently.
“As for comparisons with the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross (who sits at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament), he is not threatening to bring down the Scottish Parliament in the middle of a pandemic with an election in three months’ time.”
Speaking on Monday, Sir Jeffrey said no deal has been done between his party and the UK Government regarding dual mandates. He also said not all of his party’s MPs will be running in the upcoming Assembly elections, although he refused to name one other MP who is understood to be considering it.
“This issue was first raised by the Labour Party before I became leader of the DUP. We then had, before Christmas, a debate in the House of Lords on this issue; again, not something that was initiated by the DUP,” he said.
“And there was no opposition at that stage to what was being put forward. So I take with a pinch of salt some of the outrage we’re now seeing manifested by some of the political parties.
“I’m talking about dual mandates, because, in the end, as I declared when I was elected leader, I made clear I wanted to contest the Assembly elections.
“In the autumn I put my name forward for selection within the party; that process is ongoing. But if I’m selected, then I will put myself before the people in Lagan Valley. Ultimately, they will decide whether they want their MP to also be an MLA and that is called democracy.”