Karen Bradley: Westminster has ‘no choice’ but to impose Northern Ireland budget

Northern Ireland secretary responds to calls from DUP leader Arlene Foster to intervene in absence of devolved government 

Karen Bradley updated Parliament on plans for the Northern Ireland budget yesterday. Photo: PA

By Tamsin Rutter

21 Feb 2018

The Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley has pledged to provide clarity on the devolved nation’s budget as soon as possible, after she was urged by DUP leader Arlene Foster to step in amid political deadlock in Stormont.

In a statement to Parliament yesterday, Bradley rejected the prospect of an immediate return to direct rule from Westminster, but said she had “no choice” but intervene on Northern Ireland’s budget in the absence of an executive.

Northern Ireland has been run by civil servants since January last year, when a power sharing arrangement between the two largest parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, broke down. Cross-party talks to reinstate a government reached an impasse earlier this month.

This week Foster called for an intervention from Westminster to help the public servants who have been in limbo for months and unable to get ministerial direction for key public spending decisions.


Bradley said yesterday that a number of challenging decisions had to be taken to ensure the continued delivery of public services.

“In particular, as the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service [David Sterling] has made clear, there needs to be certainty and clarity about a budget for Northern Ireland for next year as soon as possible,” she said.

“And I intend to take steps to provide clarity on the budget and I will update the House as soon as I am in a position to do so. This is clearly not where I want to be but in the absence of an executive in Northern Ireland I will have no other choice.”

Sterling warned last month that it would be “incredibly difficult” for the civil service to continue running the country if a budget for 2018-19 had not been set by 8 February, the point at which departments needed clarity over their allocations “as a minimum”.

Bradley also confirmed that the government will continue to work with the DUP and Sinn Fein to explore the potential for political agreement. She said re-establishing an executive is especially important “to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is properly heard as we leave the European Union”.

“We stand ready to bring forward the necessary legislation that would enable an executive to be formed at the earliest opportunity,” she said.

Bradley added that in the longer term the government would do what was necessary to provide stability to Northern Ireland, but only once “all other viable options”, including calling an Assembly election, had been considered. 

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