As the last Direct Rule Minister for Northern Ireland when the power sharing agreement collapsed I have long worried about the impacts of a no deal Brexit upon the peace process. A no deal will mean the construction of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules – which we will have no control of as this the WTO has no elections and our parliament has no control over its direction of travel.
What complicates matters even more is that Northern Ireland has been without a Legislative Assembly for over two years and shows no signs of changing. Without ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly to take decisions locally. This means that UK ministers will have to step in to take the hourly decisions which will be needed following a no deal Brexit – which I do not want to see.
I asked the Secretary of State what action he is taking to avert this monumental mess. His answer left a lot to be desired.
We are still without a Northern Ireland executive and assembly despite the efforts of all involved. It has got to the point where the UK Government need to seriously consider allowing the UK Parliament to hold the Northern Irish civil servants to account.
Under law, only the Northern Ireland Assembly can scrutinise the work of their civil servants. That means that we have had 898 days since anyone was held to account for the actions they have taken. With no working executive it means that the people of Northern Ireland are living in limbo without their needs being met by evolving public services.
The Secretary of State noted to the House that I was the last Direct Rule Minister for Northern Ireland and she wants to keep it that way, as do I. But we cannot live with the situation were people in one part of the United Kingdom are not being served properly by their public services indefinitely. All parties involved need to come back around the table and reconvene the Northern Irish Assembly for the good of everyone in their communities.
We have now reached the longest period of time where Northern Ireland has been without a government. We are in a limbo without local rule and Direct Rule from Westminster and as such projects are being delayed, investment is being left unspent and decisions are not being made.
Currently, MPs can only question the UK Government on the funding settlement to Northern Ireland. Unlike other departments we cannot ask Written Questions on the outcomes of schemes in place or the management of Northern Ireland by the Civil Service. This was put in place to ensure that Westminster respected the governance structures in Northern Ireland. But as we have been so long without a government there it is time that we were allowed to scrutinise Northern Irish Civil Servants activity.
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State would not entertain this idea and I will continue to press for it.
Despite the Government benches getting a bit over keen when the Prime Minister entered the Chamber for PMQs, I was able to question the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps she was taking to ensure that all political parties represented in Stormont were given the ability to scrutinise the Northern Irish budget.
Despite the collapse of devolved rule in Northern Ireland we must make sure that all political parties are involved in the budget that will need to be implemented by Westminster. It will ensure cooperation and hopefully provide a platform for all parties to reenter into power sharing once more.