Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has threatened to cut MLA pay if Stormont is not quickly restored, as the British government presses on with draft laws that breach the Brexit protocol it agreed with the European Union.
Ahead of the second reading in Westminster of the protocol Bill on Monday, Mr Lewis and foreign secretary Liz Truss claimed the legislation was necessary because of strain the post-Brexit arrangement has placed on the Belfast Agreement.
“If Stormont is not back up and running soon, I think that is something we need to deal with and I will be looking to bring legislation in to deal with MLA pay, absolutely,” Mr Lewis said in a BBC interview.
DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in February in protest at the protocol, which aims to keep the Border open after Brexit by introducing new checks on goods sent into Northern Ireland from Britain.
The power-sharing executive has not returned since May elections in which Sinn Féin won the most seats for the first time, with the DUP blocking the nomination of a speaker and the formation of a government because of its objection to the protocol.
The last time the executive was out of office, a previous Northern secretary Karen Bradley waited 18 months to cut MLA pay. But Mr Lewis said he “can’t wait that long” this time.
While acknowledging that legislation would be required to impose pay cuts, he declined to say whether such laws would be enacted before Westminster’s summer recess begins on July 21st.
“I’m not going to put an arbitrary deadline on it, but I don’t think we can wait very long, I think people want to see Stormont up and running,” he said. “This is taxpayers’ money and if MLAs aren’t sitting then we need to make decisions I think fairly soon.”
There was no immediate comment on Sunday from Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on the threat to cut pay.
Dublin has heavily criticised the British government for introducing laws to unilaterally override the protocol but the DUP insists the tabling of legislation is not enough for it to return to government and revive the assembly.
Mr Lewis claimed widespread support for the protocol legislation, saying there would be a “good majority” for the Bill on Monday.
In a comment piece for the Financial Times, Ms Truss claimed the protocol had created a “growing sense that the rights and aspirations of some parts of the community” were being undermined.
“Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning executive since February because of the protocol, at the time of a cost of living crisis and many other challenges,” she said.
“Therefore it is the duty of this government, as co-signatory and co-guarantor of the agreement, but also as the sovereign government in Northern Ireland, to act.”