Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson withdraws plan to bring back double-jobbing

Boris Johnson confirmed today during Prime Minister's Questions that the double-jobbing bill would be scrapped. Picture by House of Commons/PA Wire 

The British government is to withdraw an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections, and Petitions of Concern) Bill which would allow politicians to hold "double jobs".

The amendment, due to be debated in the House of Lords on Wednesday, would allow MPs to retain their seats in Westminster while being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Conservative MP for North Dorset Simon Hoare said: "The vast majority of people and indeed politicians across Northern Ireland believe that whatever the question, double jobbing is not the answer.

"Can I urge the prime minister to listen to the majority and ask him not to move the government amendment in the other place later today?"

Boris Johnson replied: "I am advised that I think the amendment in question is going to be withdrawn."

All Stormont's main parties bar the DUP opposed a return to dual mandates, which were abolished in 2016.

The move would have ensured DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson would not have to resign his Lagan Valley Westminster seat if elected to Stormont in May's assembly election.

Last night, six Stormont parties wrote to Boris Johnson urging the prime minister to ditch the plans.

The letter wa signed by Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance leader Naomi Long, UUP leader Doug Beattie, Green leader Clare Bailey and People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll.

The correspondence spoke of the parties' "firm opposition" to the proposal, which the British government says will bring the north into line with Scotland.

"The roles of MP and MLA are full time roles, and it is not possible for someone to simultaneously do full justice to both," the letter says.

"The parties highlight the lack of consultation on a measure "brought forward just months away from an assembly election".

They say it cannot be seen as impartial – "benefitting as it does only one party".

"It has also departed from the stated position of the Northern Ireland Office that such amendments would only be considered where 'sufficient consensus' exists: in fact, all parties with the exception of the DUP are firmly opposed to any return to double jobbing," the letter says.

"Furthermore, we have significant concerns that the implications of this amendment could fuel political instability, in direct contradiction of the stated purpose of the bill."

Former SDLP leader and Labour peer Baroness Margaret Ritchie said she too was opposed to what she termed a "corruption of democracy".

"I am firmly opposed to double jobbing and hope it never returns to the Northern Ireland political lexicon," she told The Irish News.

"I still believe some kind of deal has been done between the British government and the DUP, which I regard as a corruption of democracy."

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson denied there was any deal done, claiming the reintroduction of dual mandates had been raised before he indicated a desire to return to Stormont.

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