Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has been urged to use his remaining time in politics to meet “outstanding commitments” from the deal which restored the Stormont powersharing institutions.

The DUP’s interim leader Gavin Robinson said there were issues around the sustainability of Northern Ireland’s finances and immigration policy to be resolved.

Mr Heaton-Harris announced on Saturday night that he would not be seeking re-election as an MP at the next general election.

Cabinet meeting
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has announced he will not seek re-election at the next general election (Lucy North/PA)

The Secretary of State was heavily involved in efforts to negotiate an agreement to ease DUP concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements, after the unionist party collapsed the Stormont executive in February 2022.

The DUP ended its two-year boycott of devolved government in Northern Ireland in February this year after its leadership struck a deal with the Government over measures to address the so-called Irish Sea trading border and sovereignty.

This led to the Government publishing its Safeguarding the Union Command Paper.

Following news that the Northern Ireland Secretary will not seek re-election, Mr Robinson said: “I contacted Chris Heaton-Harris and gave him my best wishes for his future and thanked him for his efforts to make progress.

“I trust he will remain in post until the mandate ends as there is delivery required from the Government.

“Northern Ireland needs sustainable funding which can enable reform of public services and ensure public sector workers are properly paid for their work.

“There are outstanding commitments within the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper and the Secretary of State must channel his efforts to ensure there is faithful delivery for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Robinson has also warned the Government that it must not allow Northern Ireland to become a “magnet for illegal immigrants”, with different rules applying in the region as the rest of the UK.

This followed a High Court ruling in Belfast earlier this month that much of the UK’s Illegal Migration Act could not apply in Northern Ireland due to rights protections that are guaranteed under the Windsor Framework.

A central plank of the new laws is a scheme that would see asylum seekers deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK detained and removed to Rwanda.

Mr Robinson said: “We repeatedly told the Government we were unconvinced by their legislation on illegal immigration.

“We were proven right by the courts.

“Northern Ireland will not be allowed to become a magnet for illegal migrants.

“I trust the Government will fully restore the integrity of our national immigration system.”

The Northern Ireland Office has been contacted for comment.

In his letter to Rishi Sunak stating that he would not be seeking re-election, Mr Heaton-Harris said he had worked with the Prime Minister to solve “many of the major practical issues created by the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

He said: “I strongly believe the conditions now exist for Northern Ireland to thrive, with privileged access for manufactured goods into the EU single market, while being an integral part of our UK internal market and being able to benefit from the international trade deals we negotiate; it finds itself in a remarkable favourable position – and as Northern Ireland thrives, our Union will strengthen.”

Mr Heaton-Harris also said he would be honoured if he were allowed to continue as Northern Ireland Secretary until the election.

He said: “There are still a number of pieces of unfinished business I wish to complete and I love the people, place and job, but obviously would understand if you feel it best to replace me.”