UK’s top civil servant warns of return to direct rule in no-deal Brexit

Sinn Féin and SDLP oppose any power shift to Westminster over Northern Ireland matters

A Sinn Féin MP has said there must be no return to direct rule from Westminster after Britain's most senior civil servant warned that such a situation would follow from a no-deal Brexit.

Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady was responding to a report that Sir Mark Sedwill, head of the British civil service, has written to British ministers warning of dire consequences including direct rule in Northern Ireland if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.

Sir Mark in his 14-page letter, extracts of which were published in Monday's Daily Mail, appeared to suggest that a no-deal scenario would threaten the continuing existence of the UK. "The stability of the union would be dislocated," he said.

Sir Mark wrote that no-deal would lead to a 10 per cent rise in food prices; the British government would come under “enormous pressure to bail out companies on the brink”; the UK would be hit by a recession; sterling would depreciate to a level “more harmful” than in 2008; and the ability of police and security services to keep Britain safe would be hampered.


Sir Mark said that Northern Ireland would face “more severe” consequences, particularly as the lack of devolved government would require direct rule from London.

“The running of Northern Ireland under no-deal is a sensitive issue,” he said.

“The current powers granted to the Northern Irish Secretary would not be adequate for the pace, breadth or controversy of the decisions needed to be taken through a no-deal exit. Therefore we would have to introduce direct rule,” he added.

The British cabinet office, which Sir Mark oversees, would make no comment on the letter.

Mr Brady said “any moves by the British government to return to direct rule would be totally unacceptable and yet another breach of a political agreement by the British government”.

“The letter from Mark Sedwill is further evidence of the dysfunction and reckless disregard at Westminster for the interests of the people of the North,” he added.

“In the event of a no-deal crash-out then the only logical thing to do is allow citizens to democratically decide on our constitutional future through a Border poll as provided for by the Good Friday agreement,” said Mr Brady.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the British government of continuing "to talk up the prospect of direct rule but they have yet to call the parties together to talk out the challenges to restoring devolution".

“A Westminster power grab solves nothing and is being facilitated by the failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to get back to work,” he said.

“All parties need to come together, talk through the challenges and take back control of our health service, schools and all the other public services that have been left to drift,” added Mr Eastwood.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times