British government report says north not ready for no-deal Brexit
THE British government has conceded that Northern Ireland is ill-prepared for a no-deal Brexit, while hinting that direct rule may be necessary to ensure "decision-making powers" are in place to cope with the expected upheaval.
The Cabinet Office report published yesterday says the absence of devolution has "hampered preparations" and will "critically limit" civil servants' ability to put contingency plans in place to enable the region to cope with a disorderly Brexit.
Last month, The Irish News reported how senior civil servants were concerned about the "confused messages" coming out of Whitehall about how businesses in the north should prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
The report on the UK's preparedness for crashing out of the EU was unveiled in Westminster by Michael Gove.
He said failure to get agreement would "bring challenges" but he insisted it was his government's desire to secure a deal.
The report says the British government's priority is restoration of devolution but that it needs to look at alternative arrangements.
"...the UK government will need to consider options to ensure necessary decision-making powers are in place in the event of leaving without a deal, absent a functioning executive," the report states.
"In the absence of an executive, the UK government continues to work closely with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to prepare, as far as possible, for challenges that might arise in Northern Ireland, including on the SEM (Single Electricity Market), food supply, farming, fisheries and imports and exports of animals and animal products, and for other issues facing businesses."
Among the warnings to the public and businesses included in the report 159-page report are the need for drivers from the north to have an insurance 'green card' when driving in the Republic and the strong possibility of 'inadvertent roaming' mobile signals.
However, the report does stress that the Common Travel Area will continue to operate unhindered, enabling free movement between Ireland and Britain.
It says that in the event of a no-deal the British government will stand by its policy of 'no new checks with limited exceptions' for goods moving south to north.
Mr Gove told MPs that risks remained and that sheep farmers and Northern Ireland's dairy farmers were likely to be adversely affected by tariffs.
"But whatever challenges no-deal may create in the short-term, and they are significant, these can and will be overcome," he said.
"Far worse than the disruption of no-deal would be the damage to democracy by dishonouring the referendum result."
But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the report outlined how the British government was "giving serious consideration to a no-deal power grab".
"If we have no functioning assembly, they will attempt to take powers over farming, fisheries, border controls, energy and a host of other issues," he said.
"This government has proven comprehensively that they wont act in our best interests, they will only act to make a hard Brexit and a hard border on this island easier."
The Foyle MLA said power sharing was needed to "defend the interests of this island and our people".
"I have made clear to the secretary of state, there can be no return to direct rule at the hands of the British government alone," Mr Eastwood said.
"In the absence of power sharing institutions, expression must be given to both traditions on this island in the spirit of the (Good Friday) agreement with a structured role for the Irish government – nothing less is acceptable."
Former Northern Ireland Office senior adviser Lord Jonathan Caine urged the British government to impose direct rule in the event of no agreement.
Speaking in the House of Lords, he said: "In the unfortunate event of a no-deal, it will be absolutely crucial that the government takes powers to provide for the control and direction of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Northern Ireland government departments, and appoints additional ministers to the Northern Ireland Office to discharge those powers in the interests of good governance of all the people of Northern Ireland."