Liz Truss criticised for meeting Orange Order while snubbing three of Stormont's main parties
CHIEF Brexit negotiator Liz Truss has been criticised for meeting a senior member of the Orange Order and loyalist community representatives in Belfast on Thursday while failing to engage with other civic society groups or three of Stormont's main parties.
It emerged yesterday that the foreign secretary and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis met the delegation, which included Orange Order grand secretary Mervyn Gibson, independent councillor John Kyle and Debbie Watters of Alternatives restorative justice group, at the organisation's offices off the Shankill Road.
Concerns were raised last night that Ms Truss would have received "skewed" views on the protocol from what was termed "a very narrow cohort".
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Northern Ireland Office were last night not commenting on the meeting, which came before the minister spoke separately to the first and deputy first ministers.
Ms Truss did not meet representatives from the SDLP, Alliance or Ulster Unionists.
Media access and information about Thursday's visit was limited, with only GB News understood to have given prior details of the Shankill meeting.
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was important the British government engaged with a "broad cross section of civic society".
"Engagement continues to be skewed – indeed, there are some voices that have no direct engagement despite requests over the entire Brexit process," he said.
"The underlying danger is that skewed engagement leads to a false impression of local opinion and therefore flawed decision-making."
SDLP Brexit spokesperson Matthew O'Toole said he had hoped for a "more mature approach to the protocol from Liz Truss than from her predecessor".
"But it is shocking that on her first visit here she refused to meet a number of parties, instead making time for what appears to be a very narrow cohort of community representatives," he said.
"Whatever hand-picked groups tell her, and whatever propaganda videos are spewed out by her department, the fact remains that most people here want the protocol to work – that must be the focus."
Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said Ms Truss's failure to engage with his group was a "missed opportunity to get a full picture of the operation of the protocol".
"Like many things here, it's never black and white and always with nuance," he said.
"Practicalities are as important as the politics and certainly the publicity and hopefully in any future visits we’ll get to that."
Dr Kyle, who last month quit the Progressive Unionist Party over "differing opinions" on the protocol, said the meeting was an opportunity for the foreign secretary to hear from "grassroots loyalist and unionist communities".
He said no members of delegation had associations with paramilitary groups.
"She wanted to hear what people thought about the protocol in what was a very worthwhile exchange," he said.
"It was a very constructive meeting, not a robust list of complaints."
Mervyn Gibson said he used the meeting to "let the foreign secretary know the depth of feeling within the unionist community in regards to the protocol".
"We wanted to underscore that time was running out and that continual deadlines aren't working," he said.
"We made it clear that the government needs to take decisive action."