Northern Ireland news

Belfast council's no-deal Brexit report shows 'disastrous impact', pro-Remain parties warn

 Belfast City Hall, and inset, how The Irish News revealed details of the council's no-deal Brexit concerns and contingency plans
Brendan Hughes

THE Brexit preparations of Northern Ireland's biggest council exposes the "disastrous impact" of leaving the EU without a deal, pro-Remain parties say.

But the Brexit-backing DUP said preparing for all eventualities is "sensible".

It comes after The Irish News revealed details of a confidential report on Belfast City Council's no-deal Brexit concerns and contingency plans.

A backlog of bin waste, loss of trade for businesses, food shortages for animals at Belfast Zoo and possible cyber attacks are among the fears.

Officials also warn a crash-out Brexit may lead to a "rising tide scenario" of disruption and civil unrest.

Analysis: Council warnings show far-reaching no-deal Brexit consequences

Among the preparations, extra generator fuel stocks have been arranged for the council's crematorium in case of electricity power cuts.

The council is also preparing for a run on the banks, having discussed transferring its money to other locations in case of cash-flow problems.

Sinn Féin's John Finucane, Belfast's current lord mayor, said it "exposes the disastrous impact a no-deal Brexit will have on society".

The councillor said a border poll should be held if the Conservatives and the DUP – which props up the minority Tory government with votes at Westminster – "continue to act against the democratic wishes of citizens in the north".

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite, chair of Belfast council's Brexit committee, said no deal "threatens the stability of our city's finances, our ability to deliver essential services and job security".

"These contingency measures are the direct result of a Brexit that Belfast didn't vote for and doesn't want," he said.

"While this Tory-DUP government has refused to back any safeguards for Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council has sought to mitigate the likely outcomes of a no-deal exit."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said the report details show the importance of the Brexit committee's work.

"Since 2016 Alliance have consistently said that Brexit will cause damage to our economy and public services, but we're committed to minimising these impacts," he said.

"This report shows the impact of the Brexit committee in considering these issues. It's unfortunate that unionist parties sought to frustrate its creation at the time, as doing so may have impaired our preparations."

British prime minister Boris Johnson has vowed the UK will leave the EU by the end of October "do or die", insisting the 'backstop' must be dropped from any deal.

The backstop – a last-resort arrangement aimed at preventing a hard border in Ireland – would keep Northern Ireland aligned to some EU single market rules.

DUP councillor George Dorrian, the party's group leader on Belfast council, said the EU's proposed withdrawal agreement is "unacceptable to unionists", claiming it would "build a new border between NI and GB".

He said the vast majority of goods leaving Belfast port head to Britain, meaning the "impact of an east-west barrier would be catastrophic".

"The DUP leadership is working for a sensible deal which suits the ROI and the UK. Time is short but with a less dogmatic approach by the EU27, a deal should not be beyond reach," he said.

"Preparation work should be done for all eventualities. That's sensible."

Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond, the party's EU affairs spokesman, tweeted: "A worrying Brexit assessment from Belfast City Council. It can all be avoided of course."

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