Welfare reforms spell end for Assembly, says Wilson

DUP MP Sammy Wilson
DUP MP Sammy Wilson
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Fresh welfare reforms risk spelling the end for the Northern Ireland Assembly, British Government ministers have been warned.

Democratic Unionist Sammy Wilson said the latest proposals from Westminster - including a £20,000 benefit cap outside of London - come on top of existing ones yet to be implemented and which have left a “£600 million hole” in the devolved assembly’s budget.

He also hit out at Sinn Fein for not taking their seats in Parliament to “make a defence of the vulnerable”.

A dispute between Sinn Fein and the DUP over implementing welfare cuts has endangered December’s wide-ranging Stormont House political deal between the Northern Irish executive and the British and Irish governments.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Wilson said the Welfare Reform and Work Bill contained many proposals he could support.

But the East Antrim MP added: “I believe that this Bill probably spells the end of the Northern Ireland Assembly because welfare reform - the current measures - have not been introduced, it has left a £600 million hole in the budget.

“I would just say to the members from Scotland, who have been keen to have this devolved, there is a cost in having welfare reform devolved because of course every measure which is not introduced means that there’s money taken off the block grant.”

SNP MP Peter Grant (Glenrothes) intervened to say Scots believe the additional costs are a “price well worth paying” if it delivers the “fair and just society” they want.

Mr Wilson replied: “The point I was making is that there is a cost. How people decide to distribute it is another matter.

“The one thing I do know is that the people who will complain most about this in Northern Ireland - Sinn Fein - are not even here to make a defence of the vulnerable, who they will claim they wish to protect.”