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Treasury guarantees to match EU funds as Stormont finance minister voices concerns

The Treasury has guaranteed to match some EU funds but the finance minister is concerned that the sum may not be enough

THE British Treasury has said it will guarantee post-Brexit funds for structural and investment projects across the north if they are signed before the Chancellor's autumn statement.

There have also been pledges from Whitehall to match current farm subsidy levels up to 2020.

The announcement by Chancellor Philip Hammond came as Stormont Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir claimed the north was being sidelined by London in its Brexit negotiations.

The Sinn Féin minister also warned that farm subsidies are expected to "fall off a cliff " after the UK severs ties with Brussels.

Mr O'Muilleoir was speaking yesterday in Belfast at an event organised by Nicva (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action).

The finance minister's remarks follow First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's call for Stormont to be fully involved in forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

The two executive leaders – who were on opposing sides during the EU referendum debate – made their call in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this week.

The letter also raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on the border, the all-Ireland energy market and EU funds, which they said were of "particular significance" for Northern Ireland.

While 52 per cent of people in the UK a whole voted to leave the EU, 56 per cent in Northern Ireland voted to remain.

In the wake of the letter, Mrs Foster has denied the suggestion that campaigning for Brexit was a mistake.

Mr Ó Muilleoir said Northern Ireland was being left out of post-Brexit decision making in London.

"Thus far there has been no fulfilling of the commitment that the executive would have a place in negotiations," he said.

The finance minister said Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness's involvement in the negotiations would "make a difference".

"But what is happening at the minute gives a lie to that," he said.

Mr Ó Muilleoir said he had yet to be convinced by the degree to which the Treasury would meet any funding shortfall caused by Brexit.

"We believe they have made their decision on that [substituting EU funds] and we believe it won’t be favourable to us...," he said.

"If you look at Peace and Interreg there’s £500 million due between now and 2020; we don’t believe they’ll underwrite all of that and we don’t believe they will underwrite half of it," he said.

"Farm payments we believe will be different but we expect they’ll fall off a cliff in 2020."

The Treasury yesterday gave assurances on structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before the Chancellor's autumn statement – including some projects that go beyond the UK's departure from the EU.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said he recognised that many organisations in receipt of EU funding were seeking reassurances about funding.

"That's why I am confirming that structural and investment funds projects signed before the autumn statement and Horizon research funding granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave," he said.

"The government will also match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020, providing certainty to our agricultural community, who play a vital role in our country."

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