Boris Johnson shocks Commons with announcement on ‘double-jobbing’ proposal

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unexpectedly announced the government’s intention to withdraw an amendment to a bill that would permit “double-jobbing” for Northern Ireland politicians.

By Mark Rainey
Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 1:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 2:52 pm

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, as the House of Lords prepared to debate the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections, and Petitions of Concern) Bill later in the afternoon.

The amendment would allow MPs to retain their seats at Westminster while sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Conservative MP Simon Hoare said: “The vast majority of people and indeed politicians across Northern Ireland believe that whatever the question, double jobbing is not the answer.

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Boris Johnson

“Can I urge the Prime Minister to listen to the majority and ask him not to move the government amendment in the other place later today?”

Boris Johnson replied: “I am advised that I think the amendment in question is going to be withdrawn.”

On Tuesday it was revealed that six Stormont parties had penned an open letter to the PM, calling on him to drop the proposal to allow the reintroduction of dual mandates.

Many of those opposed to the government’s amendment said they believed it was an attempt to facilitate DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s planned return to Stormont – without having to resign as the MP for Lagan Valley.

Responding to the announcement in Parliament, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey said it was a “victory for dialogue and engagement”.

He said: “This is a victory for positive dialogue and engagement with government and other parties. You don`t have to threaten to crash the institutions for unionism to have influence with government. There is another way.

“Positive engagement with government and parties is the way forward for unionism as we redouble our efforts to solve the problems created by the ill-judged protocol by putting forward positive plans to ensure long term stability for Northern Ireland and its institutions.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the government’s decision as “humiliating defeat” for the DUP.

The Foyle MP said it was the pressure applied by most of the party leaders in Northern Ireland, and Labour, that led to the government’s change of direction.

“The British Government’s withdrawal of the double jobbing amendment is a humiliating defeat for Brandon Lewis and the DUP. The truth is that the amendment should never have been tabled in the first place, it commanded no cross party or cross community support in Northern Ireland and was a clear attempt to give a leg up to one party.

“This victory is a direct result of the political pressure brought to bear on the Tories by leaders in the North and follows constructive discussions with our friends in the Labour Party.

Mr Eastwood added: “Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP will have to account for their own cynical moves over the last number of days but it is clear from the public response that there is no support for politicians squatting on seats to protect their own political position. We will remain vigilant against any future attempt to reintroduce these proposals.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long MLA said that DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson should “now commit fully to the Assembly.”

Mrs Long said: “I welcome the Prime Minister finally waking up and listening to the will of the overwhelming majority of people and parties in Northern Ireland.

“Yesterday, I coordinated a joint letter to the Prime Minister from all of the Assembly parties and my colleague Andrew Muir MLA tabled a motion signed by all parties and independents, both opposing this retrograde move.

“Stephen Farry MP has worked with both Labour and the Lib Dems in Westminster to ensure they supported the views of the majority of people here on this issue.

“The result of those collective efforts is the government was unlikely to have sufficient support to reintroduce dual mandates and so the amendment is to be withdrawn.”

Mrs Long added: “However, this amendment should not have been moved in the first place. Double-jobbing is not only wrong but it’s impossible and does a disservice to the electorate.

“Given the high pressure and full-time nature of both jobs, they deserve the full attention of a full time representative.

“Those who proposed and backed this move, however well-intentioned, are clearly out of touch with local public opinion. That was compounded by Government failing to consult with local parties before bringing this forward.

“As the only local party backing the potential return of double-jobbing, the question now needs to be asked of the DUP as to how serious they are about the Assembly.

“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson needs to affirm his commitment by removing his repeated threats to bring it down, focusing on his party doing what they were elected to do, and ensuring a new Executive is formed without delay post-election.”

On Twitter, Sinn Fein vice-president and deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The amendment from the NIO on double-jobbing was a crude political manoeuvre to shore up the DUP, giving them an each way bet.

“It was roundly criticised & rightly opposed by the majority of parties. It proves yet again that the DUP are out of step, and the Tories out of order.”

The DUP has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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