SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called for cross-party opposition to any attempt to re-impose direct rule in order to prepare the North for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
He issued the call after the British Prime Minister Theresay May told MPs that “some form of direct application of powers from Westminster” would be needed in order to brace the North for leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement.
“If there is no Stormont Government and if powers and ministerial direction, which are not currently available to the civil servants, are needed, that would require some form of direct application of powers from Westminster,” she warned.
But under the recently enacted NI (Executive Formation & Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 senior civil servants have been authorised to act in the absence of ministers if they are satisfied it is in the public interest to do so. Mr. Eastwood fears the British Government is now flying a kite for a more direct role in the governance of the North by Northern Ireland Office ministers.
“I was astonished to hear Theresa May suggest that the British Government is considering implementing direct rule in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit,” said the SDLP leader.
“I would have thought a conversation of that magnitude would warrant some discussion with local parties before pronouncement in Westminster.
“Our situation has been kicked about the House of Commons like a five pound football. We will not be used by Brexit fanatics for their own political ends. All parties here must come together to oppose the suggestion that our hard won powers will be withdrawn to Westminster to make their lives easier and the lives of people here more difficult,” he blasted.
The Foyle MLA went on to attack the SDLP’s rivals in the upcoming Council elections, Sinn Féin and the DUP, stating: “This Westminster power grab is being facilitated by the failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to get back to work.
“They may think brinkmanship is good for elections but it doesn’t help a patient waiting for a hospital bed or a parent trying to get their child a good education. And transferring any of those powers to the Tories will only make it worse.”
Ironically, if there was a return to some form of direct rule the British Government would undoubtedly be challenged to fulfill its commitments to enact a Single Equality Bill, to introduce an Irish Language Act, and to facilitate a Bill of Rights, under the terms of the St. Andrews Agreement.