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Northern Ireland: Restoring Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:04 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 5:04 pm, 21st October 2019

May I begin, Mr Speaker, by thanking you for granting this very important urgent question? Both the number and the importance of the issues that the Secretary of State has already raised with the House indicates how important it is that we have regular dialogue on Northern Ireland, but let me say to Government business managers that that has not been forthcoming at the level that we expect.

May I ask the Secretary of State a number of very specific questions? Brexit, according to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, may still result in our crashing out of Europe. Is the Secretary of State certain that he has, already in preparation, the necessary legislative changes to bring before this House in the event of that no-deal Brexit? Even if we have a Brexit deal, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Northern Ireland civil service, under the legislation that exists, has the necessary authority to make the very difficult decisions that they, and indeed other agencies, may have to make as we move through that Brexit process?

In particular, can the Secretary of State assure the House that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources that it needs in the event of any form of civic disturbance? I do not want to emphasise what kind of disturbance there could be, but we may face a period of prolonged public unrest. Does the PSNI have the resources and the capacity to play that role? Will he also rule out the situation, as we have had in the past, of recommitting the Army to Northern Ireland?

The Secretary of State mentioned the important issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. If Stormont returns in the period between now and 13 January, will he work with Stormont to ensure that we have an acceptable solution? Given that post 1 April Stormont will have the capacity to alter any such law, will he ensure that Stormont and his Department work together to ensure that there is safe and legal abortion for the women of Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland, and that same-sex marriage can take place in Northern Ireland?

In the event that Stormont does not return, the Secretary of State needs to plan now for what will happen on 13 January. We know how quickly time goes by in the context of Northern Ireland. Just look at how quickly time has already gone by—1,000-plus days since Stormont met. The Secretary of State will face a difficult decision, and direct rule is a very unattractive proposition for many reasons. He may have to look at the election option to renew the mandate of a Stormont Assembly that has not met for so long. In any event, will he guarantee that he will work with the Irish Government in Dublin to ensure that strand two of the Good Friday agreement is respected?

There is unease across the Unionist community about the Prime Minister’s decision to change the terms under which consent is given by Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement was very clear about the need to take both communities together through any decision making around important constitutional issues for Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State accept the unease of the Unionist community? Does he also accept that he now has a duty to work hard to regain that trust—a trust that has frankly been betrayed by the decisions of Conservative MPs who once were Unionists and who have now abandoned their erstwhile friends?