By Jonathan McCambridge and James Ward, PA
Brandon Lewis has admitted his autumn deadline for legislating on controversial proposals to tackle legacy issues in Northern Ireland has been missed.
In July, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced plans for a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
Mr Lewis said in October that the UK government intended to legislate on the plans “this autumn”.
But he said the deadline had been “missed” at a press conference at the Foreign Office on Thursday, following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
Mr Lewis said: “I’m already passed the autumn. I think the latest I’ve heard autumn described once was the autumn statement of December 4 one year. So, I think we’ve already missed that.
“The reality is, I think, it’s important to put the time in to try and find a way forward that can help Northern Ireland move forward.
“If that takes a bit more time, then that’s something we’ve been prepared to do, hence why we didn’t deal with this earlier in the year and we were focused on trying to do something in the autumn, but we will do everything we can to try and find a way forward that works together.”
Earlier this year the Tory administration published a command paper outlining its intention to introduce a statute of limitations on crimes committed during the conflict up to April 1998, which would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
The proposals, which British prime minister Boris Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions.
The package of measures also included a new truth recovery body and an oral history initiative.
But the move has been condemned by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Government and a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.
Mr Lewis met political parties in Northern Ireland to discuss the proposals on Tuesday.
Following the meeting, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The Government’s proposal for a statute of limitations is not just opposed by every political party in Northern Ireland but the Commission for Victims and Survivors survey showed overwhelming opposition also from victims themselves.
“If we are to have a truly victim-focused process then the views of those victims must be put front and centre.”
Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney said he believed the proposals would be implemented “imminently”.
“The British Government have no support for this position and we told Brandon Lewis that he should now remove these amnesty proposals from the table,” he said.
“However, today’s meeting is the clearest signal yet that the British Government intends to proceed with the drafting and the enactment of legislation to provide amnesty for its state forces.
“That is an absolutely egregious position for the British Government to adopt.”