MPs vote to delay Stormont deal deadline until 29 June

By Mark Devenport
BBC News NI Political Editor

image captionThe bill was passed without amendment on Monday evening

MPs have passed a bill delaying the deadline for Northern Ireland parties to reach a deal to restore devolution.

During the debate, the secretary of state also confirmed plans to provide legal authority for a Stormont budget, if the parties cannot reach a deal.

Stormont has been without a devolved government since January, when a coalition led by the DUP and Sinn Féin fell apart over heating scheme scandal.

The Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates Bill gives the parties more time to negotiate after the general election on 8 June.

It also allows rates to be collected in the absence of a devolved government.

Budget cut

It took just under four hours for MPs to discuss the legislation proposed by Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

He argued that his bill provides the scope and space for the local parties to strike a political deal.

But proof that the government is planning for failure as well as success came in his confirmation that he has been talking to senior civil servants about the budget for the current financial year.

If implemented, Mr Brokenshire's indicative budget position will provide certainty, but a projected 2.5% cut to the education budget will undoubtedly cause concern.

The debate in the House of Commons was wide-ranging, touching on issues like the Irish language, same-sex marriage, the military covenant and Brexit.

The House of Lords will debate the bill on Wednesday and then the legislation, which is being fast-tracked through Parliament, should become law by the end of this week.

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