Secretary of State Brandon Lewis puts more pressure on DUP to return to Stormont with threat to cut MLA pay
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said he will introduce legislation to cut MLA pay “fairly soon” if Stormont is not restored.
When the powersharing Northern Ireland executive collapsed previously in January 2017 after Sinn Fein walked out over a botched green energy scheme, Westminster moved to cut MLA pay.
In September 2018, the UK Government announced that MLAs’ salaries would be reduced by 27.5%, taking the standard salary rate of £49,500 down to £35,888 in two stages, beginning in November with a further cut three months later.
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Asked on Sunday whether MLA salaries would be cut if the Stormont Assembly is not restored in the near future, Mr Lewis said “yes”.
Speaking on the BCC programme Sunday Politics, Mr Lewis said: “Last time round, this was about 18 months into the Stormont collapsing before we dealt with MLA pay.
“I have absolutely heard what people have been saying about MLA pay, I do think we need to deal with it, we can’t wait that long.
“I do require legislation to deal with that, but, yes, if Stormont is not back up and running soon, I think that is something we need to deal with and I will be looking to bring legislation in to deal with MLA pay, absolutely.”
When asked whether the measure would be brought in before the summer recess on July 21, Mr Lewis said: “I’m not going to put an arbitrary deadline on it, but I don’t think we can wait very long, I think people want to see Stormont up and running.
“Again, this is taxpayers’ money and if MLAs aren’t sitting then we need to make those decisions, I think, fairly soon.”
Sinn Fein secured a historic victory in last month’s Assembly elections, emerging as the largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time.
However, the DUP has blocked attempts to restore the powersharing Stormont assembly or to form a Northern Ireland Executive as part of its protest against the protocol, which has created a trade border in the Irish Sea in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party have criticised the DUP for its decision, arguing it prevents MLAs from taking action on the cost of living and other issues such as long waiting lists for healthcare.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has argued the protocol “is pushing up the cost of living for people here and restricting choice on the shelves”.
The UK Government has since introduced a Bill at Westminster that would empower ministers to unilaterally override much of the contentious post-Brexit trading regime it agreed with the EU in the withdrawal talks.
The DUP has repeatedly stressed that tabling the legislation is not enough to convince it to return to the executive, saying it needs to see tangible delivery on removing the so-called Irish Sea border.
Ahead of the second reading of the Protocol Bill on Monday, the Northern Ireland Secretary said on Sky News the protocol was “getting in the way” of the Northern Ireland Executive returning.
“The problem with the protocol is the way the EU wants to see it implemented.
“Ultimately, I want to see the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive, and the protocol is getting in the way of that. That’s why it is breaching the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
“We’ve got to resolve that, that’s what this legislation will do.”
He also told Times Radio that the Good Friday Agreement is “either under pressure or not functioning”.
“What we’re talking about is fixing here some of the issues in terms of the implementation of the protocol that is so detrimentally affecting Northern Ireland, both GB businesses who can’t supply Northern Ireland, people across Northern Ireland who can’t get access to goods, the Jewish community can’t technically practise their religion.
“And we have seen Stormont collapse. That means the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all three strands is either under pressure or not functioning at the moment.
“As the UK Government, we have an absolute duty to protect and deliver on the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and that’s what we will be doing in this Bill by fixing some of those issues within the Protocol that are causing so many problems for so many people.”