Sunak ‘determined’ to restore powersharing as he and Mark Drakeford attend British-Irish summit
Rishi Sunak will say he is “determined” to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland as soon as possible, when he attends a British-Irish Council summit alongside the First Minister of Wales on Thursday.
The Prime Minister will be joined at the gathering by Mark Drakeford as well as the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin in his first meeting with all three as Prime Minister.
Mark Drakeford will be joining over video link after testing positive for Covid.
The summit comes after Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris announced plans to extend a deadline for calling a Stormont election and cut the pay of Assembly members, amid continuing political deadlock in the region.
The absence of a powersharing executive means that Northern Ireland will not be represented by any politicians at the talks, with the head of the civil service there, Jayne Brady, attending instead.
It is rare for a British prime minister to travel to British-Irish Council summits, with Mr Sunak the first PM since Gordon Brown in 2007 to attend.
Opening the summit, the prime minister is expected to stress his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and his hope that devolution can function again soon.
“We all want to see power sharing restored as soon as possible,” he will say.
“I’m determined to deliver that.”
He will also use the occasion to urge closer collaboration, as he meets with Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford as well as a Mr Martin.
“We face huge challenges from global economic headwinds to war in Europe,” the Prime Minister will say.
“So let’s be pragmatic. Let’s work together in our shared interests. Let’s deliver for all our people across these great islands – and build a future defined not by division, but by unity and hope.”
While at the summit, Mr Sunak will also host his first council with the heads of the devolved administrations to discuss next week’s autumn statement, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt expected to join the discussion virtually.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill, who cannot attend proceedings due to the crisis at Stormont, said the summit represented a “test” for Mr Sunak.
“We’re aware that both the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Taoiseach Micheal Martin will be there together,” she said.
“So that’s an opportunity for a very strong statement and what I want to hear from Rishi Sunak tomorrow is actually his plan for how he’s actually going to restore this executive and have local ministers in place, his plan for how he’s going to advance and propel talks with the EU around getting an agreement on making the protocol work.”
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