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Restoration of Power Sharing

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and it is good to see him in his place. Our focus remains on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, who expect and deserve locally elected decision makers to address the issues that matter to them. I continue to engage regularly with all party leaders and speak to them very regularly indeed.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but the lack of a functioning devolved Government in Northern Ireland means that there are direct consequences for its people, as is evidenced by the highest waiting lists in the UK, which would not be tolerated elsewhere. In the absence of a restoration of power sharing, there needs to be a plan B—what is it?

Obviously, all my energies are spent on trying to resolve the issues in order to allow the DUP to come back to Stormont and get the Executive up and running. There are myriad options available if we were to go down different routes, but I am afraid none of them is as ideal as Stormont functioning and the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement all being stood up.

There is a big opportunity over the coming weeks to restore the Northern Ireland Executive. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that key to that is the UK, Dublin and the EU listening harder to the concerns of the DUP about implementation of the Windsor agreement?

I thank the former Secretary of State for that question; he is absolutely right. We have been listening in great detail to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), the DUP leader, and his team of negotiators over the course of the summer. We have had very detailed negotiations and I believe we are homing in on what is actually required. That might well mean we need conversations elsewhere, but let us see where we get to in the course of the next couple of days.

The Windsor framework, which was agreed seven months ago, was a great achievement, but it was also intended to enable the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland. That has not happened. What is the Government’s plan? The Secretary of State refers to the conversations he is having, but what is the plan to get Stormont back up and running?

I sincerely welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place and thank him for his question. Currently, there are issues with one particular political party. We are talking to that party on a very regular basis at this point in time. Those talks have moved forward substantially, but he would have to check in with the DUP leadership to see if I am correct. Just because the right hon. Gentleman cannot see that does not mean that it is not happening. One thing I have learned, as I have said many times from this Dispatch Box, is that just because talks are being held in a confidential manner does not mean that they are not taking place and moving forward.

The Secretary of State knows that there are concerns in the Unionist community about unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses trading with Great Britain. The Government said last month in the border target operating model that they are committed to that access, as we all are, and that:

“These arrangements will be enshrined and further strengthened in domestic legislation”.

Can he tell the House when that legislation will be introduced?

Hopefully in very short order, dependent on making sure we have got it exactly right, so it answers the questions and allows Stormont and the Executive to re-form.