Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster: British government refuses to disclose Intertrade UK appointment process

Calls for transparency as process that led to Ms Foster’s appointment to trade body remains under wraps

Arlene Foster, former first minister of Northern Ireland and former leader of the DUP, has been giving evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry
Baroness Arlene Foster. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

The British government has declined to provide any information on the appointment process for key roles in its new internal market trade body.

It was reported earlier this week that former first minister Baroness Arlene Foster has been appointed chair of Intertrade UK.

The body, which shares its name with a Sussex-based commodity trading company, was conceived during the negotiations around the Windsor Framework between the British government and former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

According to the Safeguarding the Union command paper, which also included a pledge to scrap all legal duties relating to the all-island economy, Intertrade UK will promote business within the Britain and Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris with the Safeguarding the Union command paper
Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris with the Safeguarding the Union command paper. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON

One of its main aims is to “counter any misconceptions or confusion” businesses in Britain may have about providing goods and services in Northern Ireland.

But concerns have already been raised about how Intertrade UK appointments are made.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has refused to divulge details of the appointment process or say whether posts are advertised.

The Stormont-based department has also declined to confirm Baroness Foster’s appointment to the body and state if the role is remunerated.

In a single sentence response to The Irish News, the NIO said: “We are currently working to appoint the board for Intertrade UK as set out in the Safeguarding the Union command paper.”

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who has written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments Sir William Shawcross seeking assurances that Baroness Foster’s appointment is “subject to a rigorous and transparent process”, said there was a duty on the British government and NIO to be “transparent with the public around the process involved in the appointment of any chair of Intertrade UK”.

“Following widespread media reports that former DUP leader Arlene Foster is set to be appointed to the role questions have been raised about the potential appointment, especially given Intertrade UK came about as part of a deal between the DUP and the British government,” the West Tyrone representative said.

“Silence on this issue will only raise further questions around why exactly this group has been created and who stands to benefit as a result.”