Brandon Lewis moves to cut MLA pay unless Stormont restored soon

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Brandon LewisImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
Brandon Lewis said he required legislation in order to cut MLA pay but he would act soon

The Northern Ireland secretary has said he will move to cut assembly members (MLAs) pay if devolution is not soon restored at Stormont.

Brandon Lewis said he was aware of public annoyance at MLAs being paid despite an executive not being formed.

However, he told Sunday Politics he would act much sooner than that and would seek to introduce legislation.

A row over the affect of the Northern Ireland Protocol has created a block on forming a devolved government in Northern Ireland, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) stopping the assembly from sitting or a new executive being formed since Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in May's election.

The DUP, which has the second highest number of Stormont seats, has refused to support the election of a new speaker or first and deputy first minister until there is "action" on the protocol.

'Can't wait that long'

MLA (members of the legislative assembly) salaries were cut by 15% in November 2018 after Stormont had been without a functioning government from January 2017.

They currently receive an annual salary of £51,500 a year.

Mr Lewis said: "Last time round it was about 18 months into Stormont collapsing before we dealt with MLA pay.

"I have absolutely heard what people have been saying about MLA pay. I do think we need to deal with it.

"We can't wait that long. I do require legislation to deal with that but yes, if Stormont is not back up and running soon that is something we need to deal with.

"I will be looking to bring legislation in order to deal with MLA pay, absolutely."

He added he would "not put an arbitrary deadline on it but I don't think we can wait very long".

The comments come as the second reading of the government's Northern Ireland Protocol bill is expected to take place at Westminster on Monday.

The bill will allow ministers to override parts of the protocol, the post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Mr Lewis said the legislation would "resolve the very issues that have been detrimentally affecting people in Northern Ireland and indeed people in businesses across Great Britain who can't supply Northern Ireland".

Image caption,
Gregory Campbell said the move by the NI Secretary was "understandable" as the protocol had prevented the assembly from functioning

He said he expected MPs from across the political divide to support the bill and that there would be "a good majority for this legislation when it goes through".

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has previously said his party's return to the Stormont executive would depend on whether Parliament backed the government's plan to ditch parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell told BBC News NI: "I think it's entirely understandable, the protocol has prevented the assembly from getting up and running so he should review and review MLA salaries."

He added that he wanted the NI secretary to take a "consistent approach" and look at "monies" received by Sinn Féin MPs from Westminster.

Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats in the House of Commons because of a policy of abstentionism. They do not get MP salaries but do claim some expenses.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said the party was ready to form a Northern Ireland Executive and accused Mr Lewis of "creating uncertainty and instability" by "undermining the (Northern Ireland Protocol) and attacking the Good Friday Agreement".

"If the DUP continue to boycott the democratic institutions and hold the public to ransom, then of course the matter of MLAs pay should be dealt with," they added.

'I shouldn't be fully paid'

Alliance MLA Kate Nicholl said Mr Lewis needed to "recognise that the reason why the assembly is not sitting is because the DUP are refusing to attend and nominate a speaker".

She said Northern Ireland "urgently needs" an assembly "up and running".

Image caption,
Alliance MLA Kate Nicholl said Northern Ireland "urgently needs" an assembly "up and running"

"Alliance has been very clear that we think the DUP are the ones who should have their salaries' cut," she said.

"I am a recently-elected MLA, I want to do my job fully. At the moment I am only able to do part of it, I shouldn't be paid my full salary.

"We are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, people are struggling, it is totally inappropriate, so he [Brandon Lewis] does need to make up his mind exactly what he is going to do."

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The trade deal governs how goods enter Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and was agreed by the UK government and the European Union following the Brexit vote in 2019.

It was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland when the UK left the European Union.

The protocol led to the creation of new goods checks at Northern Ireland sea ports on some products from Great Britain, effectively creating a new trade border in the Irish Sea.

Unionist parties, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), argue that this has led to extra costs and unnecessary delays, as well as undermining the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.