Amber Rudd silent on decision to suspend parliament

Amber Rudd arrives for a visit to a benefits office in east Belfast. Picture by David Young/PA
David Young, Press Association

BRITISH work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has remained tight-lipped on her views of the decision to suspend parliament on a visit to Belfast.

Earlier in the summer she described the suggestion of proroguing parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit as "absolutely outrageous", "extraordinary" and "ridiculous".

She did not comment on the matter when asked about it on Thursday after she visited a jobs and benefits office in east Belfast.

Ms Rudd insisted she was focused on her role.

"I'm going to continue to do my job as secretary of state for work and pensions," she said in response to one of a number of questions about the suspension move.

In June, Ms Rudd told Sky News: "The idea of leaving the EU to take back more control into parliament and to consider the idea of closing parliament to do that is the most extraordinary idea I've ever heard."

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom also made a low-key visit to the north.

She held a number of meetings in Belfast, including with the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling.

It came as she unveiled a £10 million grant scheme to support businesses in preparing for Brexit.

Ms Leadsom left Stormont Castle after meeting Mr Sterling without making public comment.

Ms Rudd's visit was focused on the progress of welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

It comes ahead of another looming political row over the measures.

A £500m package of Stormont mitigation designed to absorb some of the impact of UK-wide changes to the benefits system is due to expire in March next year.

The support payments were introduced as part of the 2015 Stormont House Agreement, ending months of political deadlock over the introduction of welfare reforms in the north.

Reforms including the benefits cap and so-called bedroom tax were eventually implemented after politicians agreed those worst impacted would receive additional financial support from Stormont.

Any extension of the mitigation scheme from April 2020 onwards would require the sign-off of ministers.

With no imminent prospect of a return of devolution, the British government is already facing calls to step in to ensure support is protected going forward.

After her visit to the benefits centre, Ms Rudd said: "What I've seen today is some really great work being done by the work coaches in Northern Ireland helping people who are vulnerable and helping other people into work. It has been some really excellent work being done here to help people.

"I am here on a visit to work out what's going on in my department, how people are helping people into work, and what I've seen today has been really reassuring."

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