Morning View: Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris damaged by poll indecision

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Morning View
News Letter Morning View on Saturday November 5 2022

Yesterday, Chris Heaton-Harris announced that there will not after all be a pre-Christmas election in Northern Ireland.

While very few people wanted a poll, the secretary of state does not come out of this episode with his reputation enhanced.

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Mr Heaton-Harris was initially clear that, in the absence of an executive, we would be going to the ballot box in mid December. Indeed, he left very little room for ambiguity, despite widespread scepticism that an election would resolve the political impasse here.

Many people will now be questioning who is calling the shots at the Northern Ireland Office.

It has been suggested that the prime minister took a different view to Mr Heaton-Harris about the desirability of a poll. Much worse, the Republic’s foreign secretary, Simon Coveney met the secretary of state earlier this week and rather gave the impression that he would have some influence in the decision-making. He said that his administration did not think an election was necessary.

That this was allowed to happen without challenge was particularly unfortunate, given that only recently there had been some potentially incendiary suggestions that Northern Ireland could be subjected to the ‘joint authority’ of the Westminster and Dublin governments.

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In the past, leading Conservative figures have let it be known that they’ve had to push back against the Republic’s attempts to meddle in our affairs. At other times, figures like Julian Smith have taken a very different approach.

At the very best, it now appears that Mr Heaton-Harris’s authority as Northern Ireland secretary is diminished. Rather than coming out and openly explaining why the government’s view on an election has changed, he’s allowed confusion and uncertainty to flourish.

Let’s hope that he is more sure-footed in future.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​