An emergency move to ensure funding for vital public services in Northern Ireland does not run out amid the continuing stalemate at Stormont has cleared its final parliamentary hurdle.
The Northern Ireland Budget Bill, which was rushed through Parliament in just two days, now goes forward for Royal Assent to become law after being debated in the House of Lords.
Northern Ireland minister Lord Duncan of Springbank said the Government had deferred legislation as long as possible in the hope that Northern Ireland parties could reach agreement and bring forward their own budget.
He also told peers that he believed direct rule was not the right solution for Northern Ireland and that a strong and stable devolved government remained “the prize”.
Lord Duncan added that “nothing is off the table” in breaking the long-standing deadlock following the collapse of the power-sharing executive at the start of the year.
The Bill had already cleared the Commons after Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire told MPs he had commissioned an independent review into whether MLAs should still be paid their full salaries while there is no assembly at Stormont.
He also confirmed that £50m would be made available to address health and education pressures in Northern Ireland from the DUP’s £1bn confidence and supply arrangement with the Government, despite the continuing impasse.
Opening the second reading debate, Lord Duncan said the Bill was being brought before Parliament “with the utmost reluctance and only because there is no other choice available”.
Without it, Northern Ireland faced the threat of money for public services running out by the end of the month, he warned.
Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Murphy of Torfaen welcomed the Bill, but argued that without political progress “vacuums” could be created which were sometimes filled by “men and women of violence”.
Lord Murphy also warned against “a drift towards direct rule” and an end to devolution, which would be a tragedy.
He urged the Prime Minister to get involved and try to engineer a breakthrough in the talks.