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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:54 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset 8:54 pm, 8th January 2020

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. One can argue percentages till the cows come home, but in terms of bums on seats, as it were—or, in the case of Sinn Féin, non-bums on seats, if that is the right phrase to use—the figure speaks for itself. That should give us all cause for concern. It should also motivate those of us who share a strong belief in the importance of the maintenance of the Union and the unity of the United Kingdom to redouble our efforts, strengthen our arguments and make ever-more attractive the reasons to maintain the Union. That is as applicable in Northern Ireland as it is in Scotland, because as Unionists we face the twin challenge of trying to persuade a growing sceptical population that there is relevance to Unionism today and to its continuing. We cannot just walk through a fog of presuming that the status quo, almost of itself, will continue.

On what the hon. Gentleman asked, I think that last month the electorate, remainers and leavers alike, decided that they wanted an end to the impasse, throwing up some very peculiar and—as far as Government Members are concerned—very welcome results. When the electorate has had enough, they will pick up the stubby pencil at the ballot box and almost use it as a sword, as they use the ballot paper as a shield, to reassert what they want.

This point is possibly unpalatable to many: if politicians are prepared to not allow the restitution of devolution, because they seek to argue over points that for many in Northern Ireland will seem irrelevant or not as pressing as dealing with health, education and welfare, there is the risk that those electors will turn to politicians who are less hog-tied by those traditions and seek to break the impasse by having a new set of faces around the table. It may result in exactly the same sort of result, but if these talks fail we should default to fresh elections and not just write the electoral process off, as though it was just another way of staying the hand of the inevitable—the return to direct rule, the inevitability of which we should resist at all costs.