In Brief

What direct rule in Northern Ireland means for the UK

Tensions are high as Stormont talks collapse

wd-stormont_collapse.jpg

Direct rule over Northern Ireland appears imminent with Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill clashing over who’s to blame for the collapse of talks.

The Northern Ireland parties are at loggerheads – mainly over Sinn Fein’s demands for new legislation to promote the Irish language – and the Belfast Telegraph says Downing Street will have to take “decisive action” next week when Parliament returns from recess.

Some in the DUP also blame Theresa May for the 13-month impasse and failure to restore a power-sharing government, The Times reports. If direct rule were imposed, it would be for the first time since 2007, when Tony Blair was prime minister, the BBC says.

But what does direct rule mean? The UK parliament would have to pass a law suspending the Northern Ireland Assembly to impose direct rule. The UK would then control policing, prisons, transport and housing and other powers that are now devolved to Stormont.

Direct rule would also mean, however, that the UK would administer Northern Ireland’s abortion laws and the definition of marriage would transfer to Britain, putting Westminster in the “politically toxic” position of deciding whether to overturn the region’s abortion ban and legalise same-sex marriage, The Spectator writes.

The prospect of direct rule would complicate Theresa May’s shaky confidence-and-supply coalition deal with Foster. It would cause problems in the UK Parliament where the legislative agenda is already straining under the weight of additional Brexit legislation, the New Statesman says.

Complications or not, direct rule appears to be likely.

The DUP called for direct rule last night, while Sinn Fein insist that the Irish government should retain some power in the region through the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference – a structure aimed at fostering cross-border cooperation, Belfast Live reports.

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