Westminster Bill could shore up Stormont powersharing until election

Executive and Assembly can continue if legislation is on statute books by Thursday

MPs at Westminster have agreed to change the rules governing the Stormont institutions to ensure that Ministers in the Executive can remain in office for up to 24 weeks after the resignation of the first and deputy first ministers, with a seven-day retrospective power.

This means that if the Bill is on the statute books by Thursday the Executive and Assembly can continue to operate until the scheduled Assembly elections on May 5th despite the DUP’s withdrawal of Paul Givan as first minister.

Introducing the debate on the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill, Northern secretary Conor Burns called on the DUP to reverse its decision.

“A stable Executive and stable governance are in the interests of the people who matter most, the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.


Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Kyle, welcomed the attempt to save the powersharing institutions, noting that the legislation came out of the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored the Executive and Assembly two years ago.

He accused the UK government of negligence in failing until now to fulfil its obligations under the deal to introduce legislation.

Simon Hoare, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said the DUP’s action in withdrawing the first minister was an abdication of responsibility.

“Rage against the protocol if you will. Tear your hair out. Rend your clothes about the protocol. Go on marches, do what the hell you like. But don’t abandon the communities of Northern Ireland,” he said.

Electoral strategy

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said that if there is a satisfactory resolution to the issues surrounding the protocol within the next six weeks, his party would restore the Stormont institutions. But he said the UK government had not honoured its commitment to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was astonishing that the DUP had believed Boris Johnson’s promises about the protocol but suggested that the party’s actions were an attempt to scare unionist voters ahead of May’s elections.

“This is not about the protocol. This is about an election that will come in the next few months. This is all it’s about,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stormont politicians have been urged to work to “salvage” what they can from the “chaos” caused by the DUP.

Speaking in the Assembly, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, who is no longer the deputy first minister because of Mr Givan’s resignation, accused the DUP of being reckless and voiced concern about the ability of MLAs to pass remaining legislation within the time frame available.

Ms O’Neill said there was a wide range of important draft legislation that needed to be progressed into law before the Assembly mandate ended on issues such as climate change, organ donation, integrated education, abortion services and banning fracking.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said there had been “a lot of posturing and revisionism in the House”. Unionists “will not stand idly by while they call for the rigorous implementation of an Irish Sea border,” he said.

Mr Buckley also accused Sinn Féin of “hypocrisy and double standards”, adding that the party “would collapse this place in a heartbeat over narrow pet projects like the Irish language, for example, but are happy to ignore the Irish Sea border, which is a threat to the prosperity of everyone everywhere”.