Political news

Labour says British government 'penny-pinching' over Stormont deal

Secretary of State Julian Smith said £2 billion of Stormont funding "is an extremely good start"

The Labour Party has accused the British government of "penny-pinching" over the powersharing deal in the north, warning there is a "real issue" about the funding of the package linked to the restoration of Stormont.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd told the House of Commons: "The monies that the government has so far made available simply will not be adequate for this ambitious document."

Mr Lloyd said the first minister and deputy first minister have written a joint letter to Boris Johnson "making the point that the money is not adequate".

He went on: "What we cannot now do is see this process frustrated by a penny-pinching attitude by the chancellor and a prime minister that will not accept the consequences.

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"Secretary of State, I have to say directly to you - you've got to do better, you've got to go back to other government ministers and say we now need to see the resources made available."

Secretary of State Julian Smith replied: "This is the best financial deal of any Northern Ireland talks settlement - £2 billion."

Mr Smith said he has seen the joint letter and the reply, explaining: "That reply points out that this is an injection for this talks process, £1 billion of new money, £1 billion of Barnett-based funding up front, a guarantee.

"We then have the annual budget in March, the UK budget, and we have a deal for Brexit. So, the key task for this executive now is to focus on its priorities."

Mr Smith said the parties have agreed to publish the "fuller details of an agreed programme for government" within two weeks of the restoration of the institutions.

He added: "This government stands ready over the coming months and years to work with the executive, we really want to support it, but £2 billion of money now is an extremely good start and I'm confident that is the basis for a strong future for Northern Ireland."

Former prime minister Theresa May asked Mr Smith what implications allowing Northern Ireland businesses unfettered access to the UK market will have on a future trade deal between the UK and EU.

Mrs May said: "The government is committed to no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"It also says in this document, this plan that's been put forward, in the annex, that the UK government will legislate to guarantee unfettered access to Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.

"On the assumption that that unfettered access is as unfettered as it is today, what are the implications of these commitments for the future trade deal between the UK and the European Union?"

Mr Smith replied: "This deal above all is guaranteeing the executive a seat at the table as we implement our Brexit deal. It also underscores our commitment to ensuring, in law, unfettered access of goods from NI to GB, and it also reconfirms the fact that all arrangements for Northern Ireland in our Brexit deal are subject to the consent of the Northern Ireland assembly."

Echoing Mrs May's question, the DUP's leader Jeffrey Donaldson said to Mr Smith: "The current prime minister has talked about Northern Ireland having full access to new trade deals, so it will be interesting to see how that works out in practice."

Mr Donaldson added that the DUP are "concerned" that if the deal is to work then "the resources need to be there in order to assure sustainability".

He added: "On the confidence-and-supply agreement monies that were previously committed by the government, can the minister assure us that the remaining balance of those monies will be included going forward, and that they will come to the Northern Ireland executive in full?"

Mr Smith: "On the issue of funding, I can confirm that the C&S funding will be dealt with in the estimates process in the usual way."

Labour's Conor McGinn (St Helens North) said: "The new finance minister said yesterday that the settlement the secretary of state imposed on the executive was an act of bad faith and that he cannot and will not accept that, so how does he intend to mend the gap between the expectations of devolved ministers and the finance settlement he has imposed on the new executive?"

The SDLP's leader Colum Eastwood added: "There's lots of commitments in this deal and there is a gap between the commitments and the financial package offered."

Mr Smith replied: "Northern Ireland does have around 20 per cent more funding than any other part of the UK. I have outlined the package, I have confirmed there will be a UK budget by the Chancellor and I look forward to working with the finance minister, as does the Treasury, as the finance minister develops well-costed plans based on good value for money for UK taxpayers."

Tory former defence minister Sir Mike Penning urged Mr Smith to "become a little more forceful" in supporting veterans.

He added: "How are we going to protect them from these vexatious claims against them which is destroying their lives?"

Later, Conservative MP Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) said: "Can the secretary of state assure the House that the frequently stated commitment of the government to end the witchhunt of our ex-service people, the vexatious prosecutions ... will not be sacrificed on the altar of Stormont political expediency?"

Responding, Mr Smith said: "The prime minister yesterday was absolutely clear. We cannot accept unfair or vexatious pursuits of our veterans when there is no new evidence.

"We will bring forward legislation but that will be the focus of this government as we develop legislation across both this agreement and for armed forces more generally."

Tory former chair of the Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee Laurence Robertson asked what could be done to prevent a collapse of the power-sharing executive again in the future.

He said: "Will he look at how it might be in Northern Ireland that changes are introduced, working with the local parties, to ensure that - regardless of what disagreements there may be - that we cannot see the institutions collapse again?"

Mr Smith replied: "There are a series of commitments in this deal, agreed by the parties, which will require certain bits of legislation in the assembly that will ensure, in my view, that we should never have to have the loss of the assembly and the executive as we've had in the last three years again."

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