‘No return to direct rule’, says NI Sec ahead of Monday election deadline
Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is expected to call new Stormont elections after 5.00 pm on Monday and has insisted there will be no return to direct rule from London.
Mr. Brokenshire, who worked closely with Prime Minister Theresa May in the Home Office when he was a minister there and she was Home Secretary, made his remarks on BBC One’s Sunday morning politics programme, the Andrew Marr Show.
He said he is not contemplating any alternatives to devolved government in Northern Ireland and thus refused to be drawn on the prospect of direct rule or the possibility of joint authority with the Irish government.
Following the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last Monday – which under power sharing rules also meant First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster is removed from office – Mr. Brokenshire and the Northern Ireland Assembly had seven days in which a successor to Mr McGuinness might be nominated. Without such a nomination he is obliged to call new elections in Northern Ireland, barely more than six months after the last poll.
Speaking on the programme after week-end of consultations with the parties for which he remained in Northern Ireland he echoed similar sentiments to those of Ireland’s Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan that elections now seem inevitable.
“Sinn Féin have indicated that they’re not intending to put a replacement forward. The clear indications are that we are moving towards an election,” said Mr Brokenshire.
“I’m not contemplating any alternatives to devolved government in Northern Ireland. That is my absolute and resolute faith.
“My responsibility is to see that we are working with each of the parties to ensure that we are not looking at greater division. My concern is that an election campaign will be divisive, will actually lead to greater distance between the parties.”
He said he would encourage Northern Ireland parties “to think about those big issues and how we build things back together again once it is concluded. My absolute focus is on how we bring the parties together. There is a a relatively short period of time after the election – about three weeks – to see an executive being formed.
“What I’m focused on is that we maintain the institutions. It’s important that we are working together to see that people are focused on the great opportunities for Northern Ireland.”
He rejected assertions that the election’s timing would deny Northern Ireland a voice in the Brexit negotiations planed to start by the end of March.
“We are determined to get the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland through the negotiations ahead. It’s important to understand there have already been discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive, I’ve been reaching out to communities, reaching out to business, but we still have ministers in place.”
Article 50 would be invoked according to the timetable Prime Minister Theresa May had previously set out and he would represent Northern Ireland in any negotiations for leaving the EU.
“We’re not delaying the timetable. We still remain absolutely committed to triggering article 50 by no later than the end of March,” he said.
Britain’s Supreme Court, which is expected to rule next week on whether Mrs May must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50 heard extensive legal arguments that the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must be consulted.
Most voters in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU last June.