James Brokenshire reluctantly moves budget measures for the North

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has said he does not intend to appoint ministers to take political control at Stormont as he moved budget measures with the "utmost reluctance".

Mr Brokenshire said parties must resolve the issues to end the powersharing deadlock, as a budget for Northern Ireland was put to the British House of Commons in lieu of an agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin to return to government.

He told MPs he was taking the measure with "the utmost reluctance and only because there is no other choice available", emphasising that his "strong preference" would be for a restored executive to bring forward its own budget.

But Mr Brokenshire was urged to appoint ministers to take control in Northern Ireland.

DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) said there would now be "no political accountability in Northern Ireland either to the non-functioning executive and importantly tonight to him and his ministerial team in Northern Ireland either".

"That is not sustainable for any period of time whatsoever: there must be political accountability and he must move there urgently to appoint ministers to take political control."

Mr Brokenshire replied: "That it is not a step that I do intend to take, as he will know, while there is an opportunity for an executive to be formed, and there have been discussions that have been ongoing - even last week between his party and Sinn Féin to find resolution around the outstanding issues between the respective parties that can form that executive.

"I think it is right that we continue to pursue that but he is right in saying that this cannot just simply continue, that this is not sustainable into the long term, but I think that it is absolutely in the best interests of Northern Ireland and more generally that we continue to do all that we can to see that an executive is restored and that the parties are able to resolve the outstanding issues and get devolved government back up and running at the earliest opportunity."

Mr Brokenshire reiterated the Northern Ireland Budget Bill, which will complete all stages in the Commons today, is needed as there are "manifest risks" the civil service would "simply begin to run out of resources" by the end of the month.

He said: "That would mean no funding available for public services, with all of the negative impacts that would accompany such a cliff edge."

Mr Brokenshire said the Bill will keep public services running in Northern Ireland but insisted it is not a UK Government budget.

He explained: "It does not reflect the priorities or spending priorities of me or any other minister."

Mr Brokenshire said it is the budget a returning executive would have been presented with had it been formed.

He added: "Passing this budget in Westminster does not mean a move to direct rule any more than did this Parliament legislating to set a regional rate in April."

Labour former minister Vernon Coaker, along with DUP MPs, questioned if there would be a "£600 million reduction in spending ability" for the departments in Northern Ireland as a result of the budget.

He added: "And whose decision will it be as to which departments face the reductions to make that £600 million reduction?"

Mr Brokenshire replied: "What we're actually dealing with here is effectively the full utilisation of the resources that were set out by this House through the block grant in essence."

The DUP's Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) raised concerns as he asked Mr Brokenshire to confirm there is nothing in the Bill which allows the accounting officers to advance already agreed national pay awards, including for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Mr Brokenshire, in his reply, said: "I will have further discussion with (interim Head of the Civil Service) David Sterling as to whether there is any way that issue can be resolved in the absence of an executive.

"But I know this has been and continues to be a particular concern, a particular issue among a number of public sector employees and it is this gap we currently are within and why we need to get this resolved quickly."


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