Westminster prepares to introduce Northern Ireland budget bill

2 Nov 17

Northern Ireland’s budget could be set in Westminster to stop public services running out of money as the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein continues.

James Brokenshire, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, announced yesterday he was making plans for a Budget Bill to be introduced in Parliament after the November recess.

Although, he made clear the measure “does not mean a move to direct rule”, which has been repeated suggested as a resolution to end the political impasse in Northern Ireland. 

The DUP and Sinn Fein have failed to meet numerous deadlines to resolve their differences and form an administration. 

The dispute between the nationalists and unionists has been ongoing since January.

Brokenshire said “important progress” had been made between the two sides but that it was “unlikely” an agreement could be reached on forming an executive before the end of November – the point at which the country’s resources are expected to be depleted.

“No government could simply stand by and allow that to happen,” he stated.

“I am, therefore, now taking forward the necessary steps that would enable a Budget Bill to be introduced at Westminster at the appropriate moment in order to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.”

Brokenshire said if this was given Parliamentary approval it would give the Northern Ireland civil service certainty to plan for the rest of this financial year by giving the necessary legal authority to spend to existing plans.

He stressed that the bill could be withdrawn in the event an executive was formed in time, to allow the assembly to legislate for its own budget.

The secretary said: “Let me be clear, this is not a barrier to continued political negotiations and the government will continue to work with the parties with that intent.”

Owen Smith, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said he “deeply disappointed” but not surprised by the deadlock.

Smith added: “Labour will support the government, of course, in setting a budget to provide vital and fast-depleting resources for Northern Ireland’s public services.”

He claimed a return to direct rule would be a “terrible backward step” for Northern Ireland and called on the prime minister to invest time and effort into securing a power-sharing deal.

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