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New Job

New NI Secretary urges Stormont leaders to form executive ‘as soon as possible’

Heaton-Harris was chairman of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs between 2010 and 2016.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Sep 2022

THE NEW NORTHERN Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has urged Stormont party leaders to form an executive “as soon as possible”.

In his opening remarks to the House of Commons, Heaton-Harris, who was appointed to the role last night, told MPs that he would be speaking to each of the party leaders in Northern Ireland about the current situation.

He told MPs: “I know the House shares my view that Northern Ireland needs a stable, fully functioning devolved government to deliver on the issues that matter to people most.”

The DUP withdrew from the Executive earlier this year in protest over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, a special arrangement that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

But the arrangement is deeply unpopular with unionists because it includes checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The British government is progressing a bill to give ministers powers to override parts of the agreement.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has requested an urgent meeting with the Brexiteer to “press home the priorities for Northern Ireland”, while Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said his first job should be a functioning executive at Stormont.

Heaton-Harris, 54, was appointed to the role by new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss last night as she formed her new cabinet. The former Conservative Party’s chief whip represents the constituency of Daventry in England. He replaces Shailesh Vara who was sacked ahead of the appointment.

A self-described “fierce Eurosceptic” on his website, Heaton-Harris was chairman of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs between 2010 and 2016.


The new Northern Ireland Secretary has said he would prefer a negotiated settlement with the European Union, but the UK Government remained committed to progressing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers said: “The main barrier to the resumption of devolved power-sharing government is of course the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“So will he undertake to push that legislation through as quickly as possible and use the Parliament Act to get it through if necessary?”

Heaton-Harris replied in the Commons: “We are committed to resolving the problems in the protocol, ideally through a negotiation, but, if not, through legislation, so yes.”

Jeffrey Donaldson has said he is looking forward to working with Heaton-Harris “to build a more stable and prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland and making the Union work for all our citizens”.

In a statement, Donaldson called for Heaton-Harris to take action on the NI Protocol.

He said: “Like England, Scotland and Wales, we require action with the firepower of Treasury to get businesses and households through this winter of soaring costs.

“Northern Ireland is further hampered in this cost-of-living crisis due to the NI Protocol inflating costs for businesses and consumers as well.

“This is exactly why we need to see the Secretary of State working to replace the Protocol with arrangements that unionists can support.

Donaldson also commended Vara for his work in Northern Ireland, saying he had “committed himself fully to the role and ensured Northern Ireland’s voice was heard in the Cabinet”.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle sought assurances from Heaton-Harris that the UK Government’s position on getting Stormont up and running was unchanged,

Heaton-Harris replied: “We’re very clear, the protocol negotiation is between the EU and the UK, but yes the position is completely unchanged.”

He later told Kyle: “I am very keen we try and negotiate a solution with the European Union and sort out the issues of the protocol. However, we do have legislation ready, we’ve discussed it in this House and if we do not get a negotiated solution, we will legislate.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) told Heaton-Harris: “I hope he will be successful in doing what is necessary to get Stormont restored, namely removing the poison of the protocol.”

Heaton-Harris is expected in Northern Ireland tomorrow for meetings with political leaders.

Congratulations from political leaders

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney  said he had known Heaton-Harris since they were both members of the European Parliament.

He wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to @chhcalling for his appointment as new Sec of State for Northern Ireland.

“I’ve known him since we were both members of the European Parliament & I look forward to working closely with him in the coming months.

“First job – a functioning executive for NI.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said he hoped Heaton-Harris would play an “active part” in delivering Northern Ireland from the “iniquitous Protocol”

He said in a statement: “Having served as a MEP at the same time as Chris Heaton-Harris and been on the same side in Eurosceptic battles in Brussels, I welcome his appointment as NI SOS.

“I always found him good to work with. I trust he will play an active part in delivering NI from the iniquitous Protocol.”

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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