The political week in 5 points
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly election result has shown nationalists that Irish unity is achievable, but republicans must persuade unionists that they would be better off in a united Ireland. He said. “I don’t want to see the unionists in the place that nationalists used to be in. We need an entirely new Ireland, we need an Ireland which unionism is comfortable with, that they have an ownership of and that they agree to.”
Former Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Danny Kennedy said it is time for unionists to “unlock the doors” between them after unionism lose its majority at Stormont for the first time. Mr Kennedy said “I don’t think the union is in danger. I think in any referendum (on Irish unity), a majority of the population will still vote to remain part of the United Kingdom, but I think we do need a conversation within unionism as to how best we now move forward.” Elsewhere, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the election result has provided a “wake up call for unionism”.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire said another Assembly election could be called if political parties fail to reach an agreement to restore the Executive. In a letter to Westminster MPs he warned this could have serious consequences for public services and businesses here. Although direct rule from Westminster is an option, Mr Brokenshire said he is “not contemplating any other outcome but a resumption of devolved government as soon as possible”. Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill said his comments were “unhelpful”.
Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his first Budget, and announced that an incoming Northern Ireland Executive would receive an additional £115 million from the Treasury. What made the headlines, however, was his proposal to increase National Insurance contributions amongst the self-employed. The 2015 Conservative Party election manifesto had promised not to raise any taxes; this has not been received well by many backbench Tory MPs, but Mr Hammond said he is working “in an extremely constrained environment”. The government, he added, faces “some new challenges which we have to rise to”.
Sources have indicated that Prime Minister Theresa May could begin the formal Brexit process by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as early as Tuesday. On Monday, the House of Commons will debate the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. Here, MPs will decide whether to accept two amendments proposed by the House of Lords: 1) that the Government should give MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal; and 2) the Government should guarantee the rights of EU citizens when it leaves the EU. Minister for Exiting the EU, David Davis has urged MPs to back the Brexit bill, and insisted the UK would be prepared if it is to leave the EU without a deal in place.