Powersharing can still be saved in Stormont, says Northern Ireland secretary

James Brokenshire has said there is still time to save powersharing in Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State said there are only a small number of differences between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists, mainly around Irish language rights and culture.

Mr Brokenshire warned that Northern Ireland will begin to run out of money in the coming weeks and said it is highly unlikely a new executive could be formed in time to pass a budget by the end of November.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the Secretary of State said he was making plans to impose a budget to protect public services over the next year.

It will not make any spending decisions, he said.

“The Government’s strong desire would be for a restored executive in Northern Ireland to take forward its own budget,” Mr Brokenshire said.

“So this step is one that I am now taking with the utmost reluctance and only in the absence of any other option.”

The Secretary of State said: “Even now - however unlikely this may be - should the parties demonstrate that an executive could be formed in the immediate future I would clearly wish to proceed instead with legislation to allow that to happen,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire said a last-minute powersharing deal would be conditional on a budget being agreed and passed by the end of November.

He also said he will also reflect carefully on MLAs’ salaries - £49,500 a year - which cannot be stalled or docked without primary legislation in Westminster.

Mr Brokenshire made his statement after Theresa May and Irish premier Leo Varadkar spoke by phone and said it is still possible to revive powersharing.

The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said they did not want a return to Northern Ireland being run by direct rule in the way it was before the Good Friday Agreement.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said: “I still hope that the parties can resolve their differences and that an executive can be formed.

“We will continue to work with them and support them in their efforts.”

The DUP and Sinn Fein failed to meet Mr Brokenshire’s original Monday deadline for a deal, after Stormont had been effectively in limbo since January.

Despite the deadlock, Mrs May is understood to remain committed to a £1 billion investment in Northern Ireland agreed as part of a voting pact between the Conservatives and the DUP at Westminster.