Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland will need direct rule before Brexit says May's former deputy

Locked gates at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
Locked gates at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)

MP David Lidington has said there will have to be some form of direct rule introduced in Northern Ireland to help prepare for Brexit.

Mr Lidington, who served in former PM Theresa May's cabinet and acted as her de-facto deputy, said that Northern Ireland could not be left without real governance in the event of no-deal.

The former Europe Minister was responsible for overseeing Brexit preparations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales during Mrs May's administration.

He told BBC's Today programme some form of direct rule must be introduced before the current Brexit deadline of October 31.

"There will have to be some kind of direct rule and, I think, it's important that the government gets that sorted and in place, before the end of October, that deadline," Mr Lidington said.

"At the moment, the Northern Ireland civil service has no power to do things like give emergency support to farmers or food producers whose supply chains into the Irish Republic could be completely killed by a no-deal exit.

"All of a sudden their customers south of the border would say: 'Sorry you haven't got the certification. It's no longer an EU product, I can't legally buy this from you anymore'."

Mr Lidington said that Northern Ireland's civil servants did not have the authority necessary to act in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"The civil service of Northern Ireland does not have any power to help in those circumstances or to take other emergency measures that would be needed in the event of no deal," he said.

"I think it would be unconscionable to leave any part of the United Kingdom without proper governance in the circumstances of that kind of crisis and for Northern Ireland, in particular, where the politics is fragile, the case is stronger than anywhere else to get this sorted in advance."

David Lidington
David Lidington

In response to Mr Lidington's comments DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that his party would return to Stormont with no preconditions "tomorrow" and blamed Sinn Fein for "refusing to share power".

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said that the suggestion of direct rule "underscores once again that the dysfunctional Tory government is in complete hock in this grubby little deal with the DUP".

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this week Secretary of State Julian Smith said the UK Government will take steps over decision-making powers at the "earliest opportunity" if Stormont cannot be restored before an October 31 Brexit.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning Assembly since January 2017 when the institutions were collapsed by former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in a row over the fallout from the RHI scandal and equality issues.  

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