Political news

Stormont expenses rule change is 'good governance', Karen Bradley's office says

Secretary of State Karen Bradley, and inset, how The Irish News reported the story
Brendan Hughes

A Stormont rule change by the Secretary of State so that MLAs can continue claiming expenses after Brexit is part of ensuring "continuity and good governance", the British government has said.

Karen Bradley has faced criticism after The Irish News revealed her plans to amend regulations so that assembly members can receive expenses after the UK leaves the European Union.

Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan accused her of "double standards" as she has refused to intervene on other devolved matters, such as calls for abortion law reform and legalising same-sex marriage.

Since Stormont's collapse in early 2017, MLAs have received more than £10.4m in expenses including office and staff costs as well as travel expenses.

Current rules prevent politicians from recovering expenses for payments to suppliers registered outside of the EU.

If unchanged, MLAs would be unable to claim expenses relating to UK-registered bodies after Brexit.

But in a letter to assembly speaker Robin Newton last week, Ms Bradley said she would "apply a technical fix" so expenses claims related to UK-registered suppliers can continue.

She said the power comes from legislation enacted at Westminster last year, which permits her to make a determination on MLA pay and allowances in the Northern Ireland Executive's absence.

Asked to explain Ms Bradley's intervention on this issue but not other devolved matters, a British government spokesman said: "The secretary of state has used her powers under the Act to ensure the determination in 2016 continues as intended.

"This fix will allow MLAs to continue to recover expenses such as rent, rates and office expenses for payments they make to a person or company within the United Kingdom, as well as in the EU.

"She will continue to make decisions to ensure continuity and good governance, while focusing on her key priority of restoring devolved government at Stomont."

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