Brokenshire provides update on Stormont talks

18 October 2017

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire MP, gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee this morning.

Mr Brokenshire provided an update on the Stormont talks process, stating that progress stalled at the end of last week. Unless there is a renewed sense of compromise, he said, the chances of an imminent resolution are "not positive".

He confirmed that for a budget to be set by a Northern Ireland Executive, the latest point at which legislation can begin in Westminster to form an Executive is the week commencing 30th October.

Mr Brokenshire also outlined that any such change to MLAs' salaries would require primary legislation. He committed to continuing supervision of these salaries, adding that an intractable situation would likely lead to him taking steps to address the issue.

The Secretary of State said that he understood the pressures in Northern Ireland, specifically with regards to health and, more particularly, the implementation of the Bengoa report. Committee Chair Andrew Murrison MP asked Sir Jonathan Stephens, Permanent Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office, about the contingency plans in place for the NIO to receive more responsibility. According to Sir Jonathan, his department is readily prepared for most scenarios.

Lady Sylvia Hermon MP asked if Mr Brokenshire had ruled out calling another Assembly election. In his response, he pointed out that that he cannot legally dismiss such a course. However, he said that if progress is made there will be a need for legislation to waive the legal duty of calling an election. This would be included in an Executive formation bill.

Lady Hermon followed up, querying the extent to which the DUP-Conservative deal affected the Secretary of State’s role. He refuted any implication that he was being influenced by the pact and said that he does not sit on the two parties' joint co-ordination committee.

Mr Murrison asked the Secretary of State about how how direct rule would look. He said that his setting a budget only allows the civil service to maintain the status quo, but strategic policy decisions and those with respect to large projects, such as the York Street interchange, would fall to the UK Government.

Responding to a question from Conor McGinn MP on the role to be played by the Irish government in future arrangements, Mr Brokenshire said that he is working very closely with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.