17 Jan 2018

DUP calls for direct rule

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May signalled that another round of intensive talks to get Stormont up and running again might not be far off. Plans are being worked on to use the parliamentary February half term break – in the week starting 12th February – for some intensive talks. Mrs May sounded determined to avoid direct rule if she could.

The answer was prompted by a question from the DUP’s David Simpson. The DUP have been sounding increasingly like they think the time has come to move to direct rule. Mr Simpson argued that it was needed to make sure public services in Northern Ireland are not seriously disrupted. Civil servants in Northern Ireland are said to feel that they’ve run out old instructions from the politicians who used to work in the suspended Northern Ireland power-sharing executive and need fresh political direction of some kind before they can distribute resources.

If direct rule did come it brings one extra problem for the government beyond the obvious ones of formally mothballing a democratic assembly in a divided part of the UK. It could mean that Mrs May would have to add to the ministerial team of Karen Bradley, Shailesh Vara and Lord Duncan.

Limitations to the number of salaried positions in government mean that one or two ministers in other briefs could be reallocated to Northern Ireland duties. That could be a bit of a headache for the Chief Whip. Having a few ministers tied up with business in Belfast and away from the Commons doesn’t make it any easier to deliver a majority in the Commons if you’re ambushed by the Opposition.

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