Brexit

MLA says she will break British government gagging order to 'tell the truth about Brexit'

Claire Hanna said she would not be co-operating with 'attempts to dupe people' over Brexit. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

AN SDLP politician has indicated she will risk the wrath of authorities by breaking a gagging order imposed on MLAs who read a confidential British government analysis on Brexit.

Claire Hanna was speaking after it emerged that she and her Stormont colleagues are to be given the opportunity to view the damning official report – but only under conditions that she termed "stringent".

The “EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” document being made available in a 'reading room' at Stormont House in Belfast predicts that leaving the EU will stifle economic growth in Northern Ireland.

Elements of the research were leaked and published last week by the Buzzfeed website. It concludes that the north's economic growth could be 12 per cent lower than currently forecast over 15 years in a 'no deal' scenario and by five per cent if the UK was able to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement.

However, the documents can only be viewed by appointment and under strict conditions.

In a letter to MLAs from Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) junior minister Robin Walker, it states that no mobile phones or recording devices will be permitted in the reading room, and a government official will be present at all times.

While the elected representatives can take notes, they will not be allowed to remove the confidential documents for scanning or copying, and any disclosure of the information contained within them is "strictly prohibited".

Ms Hanna, a South Belfast MLA and the SDLP's Brexit spokeswoman, welcomed the opportunity to view the analysis but said she was "unhappy with the stringent conditions" which were being imposed.

"I'll be carefully viewing and considering the analysis but don't intend to be gagged," she told The Irish News.

"People are entitled to know the truth about the chaos and the economic damage Brexit will cause and it isn't the role of the SDLP to be covering for Theresa May and the hard Brexiteers."

Ms Hanna claimed the Leave campaign had "failed to deal with facts" and "pushed fake news" that suggested Northern Ireland would be better off out of the EU.

"We won't be co-operating with further attempts to dupe people – are MLAs expected to pretend we don't have the economic projections, or to lie to people about it?" she said.

A DExEU spokesman said the information will be shared with MLAs on a confidential basis, in line with a motion passed by Westminster.

"Our priority is to ensure the security of negotiation-sensitive material," the spokesman said.

"It would also be potentially misleading for us to publish the analysis when it does not reflect the government's position."

He added that the analysis was "preliminary, internal modelling of off-the-shelf trading arrangements", scenarios he claimed the British government had "explicitly ruled out".

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