Northern Ireland news

Brexit: Talks begin with north's civil service in absence of executive

Brexit talks with the UK's devolved administrations will reconvene this autumn
Lucinda Cameron, Press Association

OFFICIAL Brexit talks have begun with the Northern Ireland Civil Service in the absence of an executive.

The British government is due to reconvene talks with the devolved administrations this autumn.

Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, said in a letter to Labour MP Lesley Laird that he plans to reconvene the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) to review progress of discussions and continue the "important engagement" on the negotiations.

His letter of September 7 was in response to one from Ms Laird to Scottish Secretary David Mundell last Friday in which she called for the JMC to meet within three weeks.

The JMC was set up to allow government ministers and others from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss the process but has not met since February.

Since the north has no ministers due to the collapse of power-sharing, discussions have had to take place between the British government and the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

In his letter, shared by Labour, Mr Green said: "It is our aim to ensure that, as powers are returned from the EU to the UK, those powers are placed at the right level and closer to the people than ever before".

"The Government is clear that we expect the outcome to be a significant increase in the decision making power of the devolved administrations," he said.

He said that the UK Government wants to work closely with the devolved administrations to make sure that the statute book is ready for exit day across the UK.

Mr Green said he has started discussions with the Scottish and Welsh governments at ministerial level on the question of common frameworks and hopes that discussions will become more frequent over the coming months.

He added: "As part of this ongoing conversation, I plan to reconvene the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) in the autumn to review progress of these discussions, as well as continue the important engagement on the negotiations.

"I believe it is in all of our interests for these discussions to make good progress.

"I will keep colleagues updated on how our discussions with colleagues in the devolved administrations are progressing, as clearly this is an important context to the transitional arrangement for the devolution settlements set out in the Bill."

Ms Laird, Labour's shadow Scottish secretary, has now written to Mr Green demanding that a specific date be set for a meeting before the autumn recess in November - and called on Tory ministers to agree that regular meetings will follow.

She said: "The Tories are proving a total shambles on Brexit, having utterly failed to properly engage with the devolved administrations. They have finally agreed to reconvene the JMC but have not identified a date and this date must be set before the autumn recess.

"It is disgraceful that months after the triggering of Article 50 and the start of the Brexit process there still has not been a meeting of the JMC and that a date cannot be set. How hard can it be?

"The Tories have no plan for Brexit and now it seems they have no real plan for engaging devolved administrations in the process either. What are they afraid of?

"The Tory government must commit to holding a meeting of the JMC before the autumn recess."

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