Northern Ireland

Stormont crisis: Jeremy Corbyn against direct rule if institutions fail

Jeremy Corbyn
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn said the political crisis at Stormont would have been avoided if Arlene Foster stepped aside

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he does not want to see the imposition of direct rule from London if the Stormont Executive collapses.

He told BBC News NI that direct rule was a not "a good option".

Mr Corbyn added that he was surprised that a number of unionist politicians had raised the prospect of its introduction.

"I don't know quite why they'd say that unless that is something that they actually want," he said.

Martin McGuinness resigned on Monday in protest against the handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Under Stormont rules, Sinn Féin have until next Monday to nominate a new deputy first minister, or the secretary of state must call an election.

Sinn Féin have made it clear they will not renominate and have called for an election to be held.

In his first interview about the crisis at Stormont, Mr Corbyn said he understood why Martin McGuinness resigned and that the Sinn Féin politician "obviously felt he had no alternative, otherwise he would not have done so".

'Not a good situation'

The Labour leader also said that if DUP leader Arlene Foster had stepped aside as first minister because of the RHI controversy it "would have avoided the crisis".

Asked if the British and Irish governments should establish joint authority in the absence of devolution, the Labour leader said: "Joint authority would operate only for an interim period, but I am not sure that is really necessary.

"Surely we get through the election period as quickly as we can, if we have to go into the election period in order to ensure there is administrative government in Northern Ireland."

He added: "It is not a good situation. I am not presenting it as anything other than difficult."

He also said he hoped a last-minute deal could stop the executive collapsing and elections being called.

"I hope there can be talks even in this immediate period to try to restore the operation of government in Northern Ireland."

Image caption Jeremy Corbyn told BBC News NI's Stephen Walker that it was "unlikely" Labour candidates would stand in an NI election

Mr Corbyn said having a power-sharing administration in Belfast was crucial at this time because of the Brexit negotiations but he ruled out delaying the triggering of Article 50 if there was no executive in Northern Ireland.

"I think it is quite difficult to delay it now because parliament has actually voted that it should be triggered by the end of March."

He also confirmed it was "extremely unlikely" that there would be official Labour candidates if an election is called.

Labour Party activists in Northern Ireland have fought a long-running campaign to persuade the party's ruling executive committee to stand candidates.

In an interview last September, Mr Corbyn said the party was considering the issue.

When asked why the party had delayed its decision on Northern Ireland candidates, he said: "Four months ago we were just coming towards the end of the leadership campaign of the Labour Party. The national executive of the party will no doubt be discussing this matter.

"It has not be discussed since then."

The Labour leader is also concerned about the political make up of Stormont following a fresh poll.

He said the reduction from 108 to 90 seats could lead to the assembly being "less diverse in its political representation".

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