Brexit: Reform of Stormont voting system ‘could be helpful’
Northern Ireland Secretary suggests move could ease concerns over handing DUP a veto over post-exit arrangements
Irish Government has expressed fears one Northern Ireland party could block any post-Brexit plan
Reform of a contentious Stormont voting mechanism could be “helpful” in addressing concerns about handing the DUP a veto over post-Brexit arrangements, the Northern Ireland Secretary has suggested on Friday.
British prime minister Boris Johnson wants to give the currently suspended Northern Ireland Assembly a vote both on whether to opt into an all-island regulatory system in 2021 and whether to remain in it after an initial four-year period.
The Irish Government is among those who have expressed fears the petition of concern voting mechanism could essentially hand one Northern Ireland party, potentially the DUP, the ability to block the plan, even if a majority of MLAs support it.
The petition of concern essentially allows a bloc of Assembly members from either the nationalist or the unionist community a veto on certain decisions, even if a minority in the chamber.
However, Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said there were “many ways” to achieve the consent of Assembly members for the proposed all-Ireland regulatory system.
Mr Smith is trying to reignite flagging efforts to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland after almost three years without a devolved legislature.
Ahead of talks with some of the parties on Friday at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, he was asked whether reforming the petition of concern as part of any deal to resurrect Stormont could help address concerns about the Brexit deal.
“That could be helpful,” he said. “I’ve always said that I thought consent could be an important part of unlocking this Brexit conundrum.”
Separately, the British government has said it would consider publishing the full legal text of its proposals - as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have called for.
“We put it forward confidentially, but it’s something that we will consider,” a spokeswoman said. “We obviously want negotiations to take place rapidly. We felt it’s in the best interests on that basis for this to be shared confidentially. “We obviously made our proposals public. But as I say, it’s something that we will consider.”
Mr Johnson’s Europe adviser, David Frost, is having further technical talks with officials in Brussels, and Downing Street said the UK was prepared to continue discussions over the weekend.
A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “I think it’s clear that all sides want a deal. “What we have done is put forward fair and reasonable proposals to help us negotiate a new deal.
“The [European] Commission, who obviously we will be negotiating with, welcomed our determination to advance talks and make progress towards that deal.” The spokeswoman added: “We are ready to talk at any point, including over the weekend.”
The European Commission has denied there is a deadline for a Brexit deal to be reached before the European Council meets on October 17th.
Natasha Bertaud, deputy chief spokeswoman, said: “What we have always said is that every day counts, especially as we near the end of October. Technical-level meetings are currently ongoing in order to give the United Kingdom opportunity to present their proposals in more detail but no deadline has been set.” – PA