Ministers ‘must be prepared to walk away’ from British-Irish talks

Cabinet ministers should “walk away” from today’s intergovernmental conference if there is any attempt by Dublin to press for discussions on devolved issues, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.

Irish Deputy PM Simon Coveney and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will meet British government ministers at the Cabinet Office in London, as the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) reconvenes for the first time in 11 years.

Jim Allister

Jim Allister

While the agenda of the meeting was not released by either government, the DUP and Sinn Fein have set out radically different interpretations of what the conference can do.

The DUP has derided the BIIGC as a “talking shop” with no executive powers, while Sinn Fein wants the two governments to use the meeting to discuss devolved matters.

But North Antrim MLA Mr Allister has warned that any attempt by the Irish government to move beyond the remit of the conference would be a “totally wrong and retrograde step”.

He told the News Letter: “If the Republic of Ireland government seeks to breach the ambit of the conference then Karen Bradley and the deputy PM should gather their papers and say ‘good day to you’ and walk away.

“They need to be very clear, emphatic and robust about this issue, as it goes to the heart of the constitutional integrity of this country.”

The TUV leader said that previous BIIGC meetings under Tony Blair’s Labour government had “blurred the lines of demarcation as to what issues could be discussed”.

Branding the BIIGC as a “window dressing exercise to give the Irish government a platform”, Mr Allister added: “It is quite clear that, under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, this conference has no executive powers.

“Views and proposals can be put forward, but the sovereignty of who makes any decision rests solely with the British government.

“That is not a line which the Labour government under Blair and Hain properly held, but one that the current self-proclaimed unionist government at Westminster needs to hold emphatically.”