Bradley wanted judges to let civil servants act as ministers

The secretary of state has expressed disappointment at the ruling of three senior Belfast judges' which ends the emerging situation where unelected civil servants were taking controversial decisions about hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.

Monday, 9th July 2018, 9:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 6:44 pm
Karen Bradley addressing MPs in the Commons on Monday night as they debated the Stormont budget

Karen Bradley also suggested to the Commons that she is involved in consideration of whether the ruling should be appealed to the Supreme Court – even though she was not a party to the case and by choosing not to implement direct rule she has no power over Stormont officials, in whose hands that decision is meant to solely lie.

During debate tonight on the second Stormont budget to be set by an act of direct rule at Westminster, Mrs Bradley came under pressure to go beyond such piecemeal steps and implement full direct rule of Stormont departments, allowing her to take ministerial decisions, with Labour’s Owen Smith saying that “we cannot be squeamish about calling it direct rule”.

Raising Friday’s Court of Appeal decision on the Mallusk incinerator – which rules that civil servants have no powers to take ministerial decisions – North Down MP Lady Hermon asked Mrs Bradley if “the government is intending to appeal – yet again – that decision”.

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Mrs Bradley replied: “We are considering the position.” Then, alluding to the Cabinet’s Chequers discussion, she said that “there has been a little bit going on over the weekend, but we are working very hard on that and we will ensure that we come to this house with our conclusions and our decisions around the decision. It is not the decision that we wanted to see and we will obviously consider our position.”

Labour shadow secretary of state Tony Lloyd said that despite the events of Friday “there should have been considerable work being done on this before [then]”.

Mrs Bradley apologised “if I was being flippant” and insisted that “considerable work” had gone on prior to Friday.

Mr Lloyd said there was uncertainty about whether the money being approved by Parliament could be spent by officials or whether their decisions would become bogged down in a torrent of judicial reviews.

DUP MP Paul Girvan said his party was concerned that much of the £1 billion it secured to back the Tories could not be spent due to the ruling: “We have a fear that that money will not be allocated or used correctly if we cannot get decisions pushed through – and the only people who can do it are this government.”

Mrs Bradley’s response suggested that she does not believe that the judgment is as sweeping as it appears to be, saying that at present there is “no difficulty in [civil servants] spending the money that has been allocated so far”.

DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party was alarmed to find that some of the £1 billion which it believed would go “to the front line” in helping strained school budgets had in fact been allocated by officials to plug a huge gap in the accounts of the Education Authority.

Mrs Bradley again appeared to suggest that her department could intervene in the matter, despite having no power over Stormont officials. She said that she “would be more than happy to have officials in my department speak to the officials in NICS and establish what has happened because we are very clear where the money needs to be spent”.