BBC QT chaos as Fiona Bruce fumes at audience members angry Brexit rant
Fiona Bruce rushed to calm a fiery clash between Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and an audience member on BBC Question Time tonight.
The Cabinet member was directly criticised for “washing his hands” of responsibility for having a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland, which is currently at an impasse in a row over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
It was put to him that he had imposed a “punishment budget” on Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Secretary rejected this, saying it was a “misunderstanding of what is happening here”.
He said the money was set aside in the Spending Review “properly and thoroughly” and that Westminster could not impose itself on Northern Ireland.
He added: “How it’s spent is determined by the executive if there was an executive sitting. And as someone did say, what all this needs is a joined-up approach and that’s exactly what you have ministers for.”
He later said he was “happy to talk with a reformed executive about what makes a budget sustainable”.
The audience member told the minister “to get your finger out and start doing it”.
He added: “The public services here are falling apart. Everything is falling apart in Northern Ireland and it’s on your watch.”
Ms Bruce was forced to intervene when a heckler began shouting in the audience.
She shouted repeated demands to “hang on, hang on” while Mr Heaton-Harris finished making his remarks.
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Meanwhile, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he believes the UK Government is “moving closer” to addressing his party’s concerns over post-Brexit trade.
The DUP has been blocking powersharing for more than a year in protest at the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
The party says the framework deal struck by the EU and the UK to reform the protocol does not sufficiently address its concerns and has made clear it will not accept a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
One of the main parts of the framework – the green/red lane system for the movement of goods – became operational at Northern Ireland ports at the beginning of this month.
Talks between the DUP and the Government have been ongoing over the summer.
Sir Jeffrey was responding to BBC Question Time audience member Gary Clark, who asked: “How much longer should the people of Northern Ireland have to tolerate a lack of devolved government and crumbling public services?”
Speaking in Lisburn, Sir Jeffrey said there are elements of the Windsor Framework that represent progress, but “there remain some areas that still have to be resolved”.
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He added: “I think we are closer to finding a resolution than we were at the beginning of this process when no one was listening when the EU said there would be no renegotiation.”
Sir Jeffrey said he wanted to see Stormont “back up and running” as Northern Ireland’s finances are not adequate to deliver effective public services.
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