Sector discusses Brexit negotiations and priorities with the Department of Communities

7 Jul 2017 Geoff Nuttall    Last updated: 7 Jul 2017

On 7 June, sector representatives met with officials from The Executive Office and Department for Communities to hear how they are feeding into the Brexit negotiations and to highlight sector concerns and recommendations

On 7 June 2017, David Patterson (from The Executive Office) and Michael Donnelly (Dept. for Communities) together with a number of DfC colleagues met with a gathering of representatives from the sector to discuss how government and in particular the Department for Communities is working to feed into the process for the EU Exit negotiations and to listen to the concerns and recommendations of the sector.

Key points from the TEO/DfC briefing on Brexit activities:

  • An ‘EU Future Relations Project’ has been established within the Civil Service focussed on Brexit and future relationships with Europe, currently led by Sir Malcolm McKibben. Representatives from four departments sit on this group - Economy, Agriculture and Environment, Justice and Finance. Every department has established a Brexit team
  • The project is still in a period of analysis, trying to assess the impacts of Brexit under a range of different scenarios
  • Feedback has already been given to Whitehall on issues such as: market access, international trade, agriculture and food market, criminal justice and security, energy, and legislation
  • There has also been engagement with the UK Government through the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Irish Government via the North-South Ministerial Council and other all-Ireland networks
  • Whitehall is taking the lead in determining an engagement agenda with the Department of the Taoiseach
  • In the absence of a Northern Ireland government to give ongoing political direction, the work of the project has been informed by the broad policy direction given in the letter sent by the First and Deputy First Minister to the UK Prime Minister in August 2017 identifying five key priorities for consideration in the negotiations, namely -
    • That the border does not impede the movement of people, goods and services
    • That businesses must remain competitive retaining access to labour and not incurring additional costs
    • The need to avoid undermining the all-Island energy market
    • Clarity on EU funding
    • Vulnerability of agri-food and fisheries sector
  • All Departments are trawling legislation to assess the impact of inoperabilities as a result of exiting the EU. There are some 66,500 pieces of EU legislation to work through

Key concerns highlighted by the sector:

  • The potential loss of equality laws/ minimum standards and the need to ensure that what will replace these to ensure equality remains strong
  • The threat to good relations between EU nationals and indigenous community
  • The potential erosion of Human Rights
  • The movement of people/ workers/ service users across the border
  • The loss of EU Funding and future sustainability
  • The lack of political representation in the negotiations for Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive and the need for mechanisms to ensure that equality and minority groups and other civic voices are heard
  • The need to inform citizens about what rights they will have post-Brexit and about the potential risks and impacts of Brexit e.g. how it will affect cross-border workers and families, how energy supplies might be affected
  • The impact on immigration and asylum including on DfC’s role in the delivery of resettlement of Syrian Nationals and concern that since immigration and asylum is not devolved, Northern Ireland’s voice may not be heard on this issue
  • The continued right of EU citizens to remain in the UK and the impact of future restrictions e.g. on Belfast City Council’s plans for the development and economy of the city which assume continued free movement
  • Continued access to innovative and creative networks which is as important as access to economic markets
  • The level of engagement with and impact on Councils including on the services provided by border councils
  • The volume of legislative change required and how this will be managed
  • Concerns about community cohesion as Brexit has proved a highly divisive issue

 

Key recommendations by the sector:

Safeguarding community cohesion

  • There should be support for EU nationals living in NI during the Brexit negotiations as there are concerns that the negotiations may see an increase in community tensions. It will be important to monitor these tensions and support community cohesion where necessary

Civic Engagement and Communication

  •  There should be proper Civic Engagement and information provision about the Brexit process and negotiations
  • There needs to be structure and strategy around communications.  These need to be open and transparent and civic society needs to be part of the process. The Irish Government have a Brexit Bulletin- we should have something similar

Changes to EU legislation/Rights

  • There must be robust scrutiny of any EU laws which Whitehall proposes to repeal and the devolved administrations should have a say in what is repealed.  There also needs to be more information provided on the process around changing EU legislation
  • Processing legislation and policy requires increased capacity (i.e. legal skills required for transposition). The capacity needs of Assembly committees should be assessed as more support may be required.  A Brexit Committee needs to be established
  • Where EU standards are to be removed, there must be a mechanism to keep equality law strong
  • There must also be full consideration of the opportunities which legislative change could offer to tackle issues in Northern Ireland e.g. increased devolved powers, regional migration policies

Funding

  • There should be a full analysis and assessment of what EU funding will be lost and the impact of this. Safeguards must then be put in place both in terms of new domestic programmes and continued access to EU funds (e.g. Transnational competitive funds)

Development of NI’s position on Brexit negotiations

  • Northern Ireland needs to agree a position on Brexit that is proactive, not reactive. If no political agreement reached in NI then we must use civic society to fill in the gaps

 

 

by Geoff Nuttall

Head of Policy and Public Affairs

[email protected]

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