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Deal or no deal: Brokenshire sets deadline for Northern Ireland political talks

Legislation process must begin at Westminster on October 30

By Jonathan Bell

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has set a deadline for the Northern Ireland political talks before he is forced to set a budget.

Addressing the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee he said the absolute latest date for establishing an Executive in order for a budget to be set was the week commencing November 6.

Mr Brokenshire said that would be the latest opportunity for a budget to pass through the Assembly but if no deal was evident, he would need to begin the legislation process for the week beginning October 30 at Westminster.  There would need to be a deal in place, or a clear indication there was a deal before that Monday.

He said legislating for a budget from London did not "denote" direct rule, but repeated "we're on a glide path to more Westminster intervention" and setting a budget was a significant step toward it.

"The landing lights will be on and landing gear coming down," he said, "clearly the ultimate destination could be direct rule."

Deal or no deal

  • Deal needed for Executive formation on week of November 6 to pass budget

  • No deal - legislation for budget at Westminster must begin on week of October 30

He said there had been no breakthrough in the talks and paid tribute to the "incredible" work of the civil service, but decisions needed to be made on matters such as budgets and contract renewals in the voluntary sectors as well as "loss of opportunities".

"But that could not continue," he said.

Mr Brokenshire said the focus was on restoring the institutions but he would need to legislate for a budget through Westminster by the end of October. He said for the Westminster parliament to legislate for a budget in Northern Ireland would be "significant and serious and a firm step backwards".

I might have indicated momentum and progress... that stalled last week.

"The prospects do not look positive at this time," he added.

"A breakthrough has not been reached. Whilst if I had given evidence to this committee last week, I might have indicated some momentum, some more positive progress, that momentum stalled at the end of last week.

"I would like the parties to recognise the spirit of compromise."

He said he recognised the public pressure on MLA pay and will keep the issue under examination and if there was no change would deal with the matter. Mr Brokenshire also rejected he wasn't acting impartially in light of the deal the DUP had struck with his party to operate a minority government.

Gregory Campbell asked the Secretary of State to consider differentiating between MLAs pay and office allowances to allow elected members to serve their constituents.

On his options, Mr Brokenshire said legally he could only call another election. Every other option needed to be legislated for at parliament, the minister said. He would not discuss a timetable for implementing full direct rule.

"The best possible outcome is for locally elected politicians to make decision and be held accountable by a locally elected assembly - that is the bedrock of the Belfast Agreement," he said.

Asked about the prospect of direct rule, Northern Ireland Office permanent secretary Jonathan Stephens said his department was "ready for a range of contingencies" and had been increasing its staff.

On Brexit, Mr Brokenshire said he was confident on a solution on the border and ruled out cameras. He also said political donations would be published "soon".

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