Uk’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:04 pm, 13th March 2019

The hon. Lady, for whom I have enormous respect, is absolutely, 100%, totally right. Of course, it is up to this House to take that decision, but it is the case, whatever the position in Scotland—there can be no doubt that leaving without a deal would impose additional pressures on our precious Union—that there would be particular pressures on Northern Ireland if we leave without a deal on 29 March. As the hon. Lady points out, Northern Ireland has been without a devolved Government for two years and, in the absence of the Stormont institutions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has introduced legislation and guidance to empower Northern Ireland’s civil servants, including the wholly estimable David Stirling, to continue to take decisions that are in the public interest. That arrangement is sustainable at the moment, but it is the sincere hope of myself, my colleagues in Government and, I believe, almost everyone across the House that we can restore the Northern Ireland Executive.

However, it is also clear that the current situation, with no Executive, would be difficult to sustain in the uniquely challenging context of a no-deal exit. If the House voted for no deal, we would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision making in the event of that outcome. That would include the real possibility of imposing a form of direct rule. That is a grave step, and experience shows us that it is hard to return from that step, and it would be especially difficult in the context of no deal.