No-deal Brexit: Government planning for direct rule in Northern Ireland, foreign secretary admits

Boris Johnson’s government is considering imposing direct rule in Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a senior minister had admitted.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and Mr Johnson’s de facto deputy, said senior ministers were looking “very carefully” at whether legislation would be needed for the government to take direct control of the region.

The admission follows reports that officials have warned ministers that the region would struggle to cope without a functioning government if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The executive at the Northern Ireland assembly collapsed in January 2017 and while talks to restore power-sharing are ongoing, it is far from clear that a resolution will be found by 31 October, the current Brexit deadline.

Mr Raab said the government would ensure there was “no vacuum” in the region in the event of no deal.

Asked if the government would have to impose direct rule, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ll make sure that arrangements are in place so that there’s no vacuum, so there’s the efficient conduct of government, but the number one priority is to see the parties in Northern Ireland revive the executive and the assembly so they can take responsibility and control.

He added: ”We’ll make sure – and there will of course need to be legislation considered across the no-deal scenario – that all the arrangements, whether they’re regulatory or administrative, are in place so that we don’t have a vacuum.“

Asked if legislation would be needed to enforce direct rule, he said: ”The question will be the extent to which it can be done, and that’s something I know Julian Smith [the Northern Ireland secretary] will be looking at very carefully, along with Michael Gove [the Cabinet Office minister].“

Imposing direct would effectively suspend the Good Friday Agreement, which is based heavily on the idea of devolved government, and would infuriate the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson is yet to speak to Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier and a key figure in the Brexit process.

Last week, Mr Varadkar questioned whether the UK government was “impartial” in Northern Irish politics, as it is supposed to be, because of the Conservatives’ electoral pact with the DUP.

He said: “I will allow others to judge whether a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP is impartial.”

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