Finance Minister says NI left out of Brexit negotiations: UK Gov won’t underwrite current EU funding for NI

NICVA Big Ideas Festival of Economics eventDuring a question and answer session (MP3) following his brief speech at the start of NICVA’s Big Ideas: Festival of Economics, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir indicated that Northern Ireland was being left out of post-Brexit decision making in London.

[A separate blog post details more about the day long festival and includes audio of the main talks and panels.]

He also felt it was likely the British Government would not underwrite the “half of” current EU INTERREG and PEACE funding, adding that he expected farm payments would “fall off a cliff in 2020”.

Here’s a transcript of part of the discussion:

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: Thus far there has been no fulfilling of the commitment that the Executive would have a place in negotiations … This week and last week in London they were making decisions on how they would proceed with the PEACE and INTERREG monies. Those decisions are being made as we speak, in fact we’re expecting a letter today …

Seamus McKee: [interrupts] in Brussels?

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: Brussels my arse, as they say. It’ll be made in London. There has been no effort at all – not a phone call, not a letter, not an email – to say to us what do you think we should do with the PEACE money and the INTERREG money? Not a word. And we do expect that letter today. So the promise of Theresa May made and the homily she gave outside Number 10 and the commitment she said that we want to all work together … that has not been fulfilled.

Seamus McKee: Did you really expect it to be fulfilled?

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: Well I always certainly give someone at least a week before I fall out with them. And with Theresa May it’s a month ago she said that it was going to be a fresh start – and we love that word ‘fresh start’ here – but that is going to be a big issue because for me I do believe that if Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness are front and are at centre at the table it will make a difference. But what is happening at the minute gives a lie to that. We’ll see how that goes if we get the letter today. But it’s not something we should accept that after saying one thing publicly, in fact what they are doing is negotiating on our behalf and making crucial decisions ….

Seamus McKee: Just remind us what’s to be in this letter?

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: The letter will say how the British Government will proceed in terms of INTERREG money, PEACE money and farm payments between now and 2020 … We believe they have made their decision on that [substituting EU funds] and we believe it won’t be favourable to us and we believe they will announce that by fate to us.

Seamus McKee: … You’re suggesting that you don’t expect the British Government to substitute for the EU funding?

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: I think they won’t go far enough. That’s our feeling.

Seamus McKee: Does that put jobs at risk?

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: Oh, absolutely … We think the British Government is about to make a decision that will put in peril [funding] … If you look at PEACE and INTERREG there’s 500 million due between now and 2020 and we don’t they’ll underwrite all all of that and we don’t believe they’ll underwrite half of it. Farm payments we believe will be different but we expect they’ll fall off a cliff in 2020.

– – –

Update: Just after midnight the Department of Finance issued a statement on their out of hours blog.

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said that short term assurances provided by the Chancellor around EU funding do not go far enough.

The Minister said: “Prior to the referendum, the European Union had agreed to contribute over €1.2 billion to Structural and Investment Fund programmes in the north scheduled to run between 2014 and 2020. This includes contributions to the cross border PEACE IV and INTERREG VA Programmes. The decision today not to underwrite that sum in relation to EU funds from now to 2020 is a setback to the economy and a failure by the British government to match European support for the peace process.

“Despite the promise of the British Prime Minister to act in the interests of all, there has been no attempt to consult with myself, the Executive or the Irish Government, about the best way forward in relation to European funds.

“While the decision to honour letters of offer issued up to November will help some applicants for EU funds, it will leave a question mark over scores of other vital projects and means potentially up to £300m of future funding is in peril.

“I have discussed this issue with the Chancellor and with my counterparts in Scotland and Wales, calling on the British Government to give a commitment that devolved administrations would not lose a penny of EU related funding streams. I have also written to the European Commissioner for Regional Policy with Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and reiterated the joint support of the Executive and the Irish Government for our cross border PEACE and INTERREG programmes.”

The Minister continued: “Rather than providing the certainty needed following the EU referendum this short-sighted decision could deepen the economic blow. It is clear the Executive needs to be front and centre in decisions around Europe and in all negotiations on these crucially important issues.”