Boris Johnson could effectively restore direct rule in Northern Ireland to prepare for Brexit if the Stormont Assembly is not up and running by October, Dominic Raab said today.
The Foreign Secretary, effectively Mr Johnson’s deputy, said legislation would be needed to get the province ready for No Deal.
Asked if direct rule would be brought back given the power-sharing executive has not been functioning since 2017, Mr Raab said: ‘We’ll make sure that the arrangements are in place so that there is no vacuum, that there is the efficient conduct of government.
‘The number one priority is to see the parties in Northern Ireland revive the Executive and the Assembly so that actually they can take responsibility and control.’
He said: ‘There will of course need to be legislation considered, across the no-deal scenario.
‘We’ll make sure that all the arrangements, whether they are regulatory or administrative, are in place so that we don’t have a vacuum.’
Asked whether direct rule could be done without legislation, Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the question is ‘the extent to which it can be done’.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured in Downing Street last week) insisted Brussels was not the ‘only game in town’ for trade pacts, saying he will target the US, Asia and Latin America
Preparations for No Deal have been dramatically stepped up after Boris Johnson (pictured at the Faslane naval base in Scotland today) became PM
He added: ‘What I’m saying is we will make sure the arrangements are in place to make sure all the risks across all quarters of the United Kingdom, but particularly in relation to Northern Ireland, can be addressed and managed in as sensible and as smooth a way as possible.
‘And we are mindful, of course, of the sensitivities in Northern Ireland. The number one thing we have made clear is there will be no return to a hard border and no extra infrastructure.’
A Number 10 spokeswoman said the focus was on restoring the power-sharing Executive, but ‘we will make sure that we have the administrative, regulatory and legislative arrangements in place should that not be the case’.
‘But our priority is to make that happen. The Prime Minister will be travelling to Northern Ireland as a matter of priority to talk to the parties and to do everything possible to ensure that the Executive and the Assembly is back up and running.’
The news came as preparations for No Deal were dramatically stepped up following Mr Johnson becoming PM.
He has solemnly vowed to take the UK out of the bloc by the end of October with or without a deal.
What will happen during the PM’s first months in power?
Today: Boris Johnson is heading to Scotland, where he will pledge to protect the Union.
He will hold talks with Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
Meanwhile in London the new Brexit ‘war Cabinet’ is meeting – albeit without the PM.
August 1: Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.
Tory candidate Chris Davies is seeking to regain the seat he was ousted from by a recall petition triggered in the wake of his conviction for submitting false expenses claims. If he fails, the new prime minister’s working majority in the Commons will be cut to just three.
August 24: G7 Summit in Biarritz. The new prime minister’s first appearance at a major global summit.
Donald Trump will be among the world leaders at the gathering, potentially providing the opportunity for a meeting with the controversial US president in an effort to highlight the importance of the special relationship and a future trade deal.
September: The UN General Assembly meeting in New York will provide another opportunity for the new prime minister to appear on the global stage and set out their vision for the country’s place in the world. –
September 29 to October 2: Conservative Party Conference.
The gathering in Manchester will be a key test of the new Tory leader’s ability to unite the party and provides a platform to use their closing speech to address the nation.
October 17-18: EU summit. This is the last schedule meeting of EU leaders before the UK is due to leave the bloc – although an emergency gathering could be called before or afterwards.
October 31: The deadline for reaching a Brexit deal.
Unless there is a further extension, this will be the UK’s last day as a member of the European Union and it will leave, with or without an agreement.
Mr Raab admitted today that there were ‘risks’ from crashing out, and insisted it was not the preferred option.
But he said the UK could actually be in a better position to negotiate once it legally cuts ties with the EU.
‘I think it will be much easier, for example, to deal with the backstop issue in the context of a free trade agreement than it would under the current arrangements, which are so undemocratic,’ he said.
‘So actually although there will be risks on all sides of this [from No Deal), I think the prospects of reverting and getting a good deal for the UK will be easier after we leave, if that’s the case, and the reason being is we will do so as an independent third country and we will be less subject to, effectively, the demands and unilateral dictates of the EU as we are now.’
Warning that the EU will be to blame if there is No Deal, Mr Raab said he would be using Parliament’s summer recess to approach ‘growth markets’ in Asia, Latin America, and the US.
He said: ‘I haven’t set the firm plans yet, but that will include the US, Latin America, and Asia because the negotiation with the EU is crucially important and we would love to get a deal that is acceptable to the UK, but Brussels is not the only game in town.
‘The opportunities of Brexit involve many of those growth markets of the future from Latin America to Asia, and we have got a US President who is speaking very warmly about this country.’
He added: ‘We’ll keep straining every sinew if there is a deal to be done, but the EU will need to move and, if they don’t, it is incredibly important that we are ready for eventualities.’
He said the Government wants a good deal with the EU but that a ‘series of fairly stubborn positions staked out by the EU’ have made this difficult.
He said the Government has to be able to offer ‘finality’ for people by preparing for no-deal.
Asked how he would deal with opposition to no-deal in Scotland, Mr Raab said: ‘As unionists we are committed to respecting the democratic mandate of the referendum, which applied do the whole of the United Kingdom, and that was very clear.
‘We, of course though, need to make sure that we assure all sectors of the economy and all regions of the United Kingdom, which is why the Prime Minister is up in Scotland today in the first of a series of visits around the Union.’
He added: ‘The mandate certainly wasn’t to leave the EU if the EU let us, it was an in out referendum, and we made clear, those on the campaign, that we should strive for a good deal but, if that wasn’t available, that we should go on and make a success of Brexit.’