Divisions in the Executive and the Assembly contributed to the lack of scenario planning for the referendum outcome and are inhibiting the development of a clear Brexit strategy. These are among the conclusions in a comprehensive briefing paper prepared for the Centre for Peace Building and Democracy ( chair Lord Alderdice) by Queen’s academics Professor David Phinnemore and Dr. Lee McGowan, entitled Establishing the Best Outcome for Northern Ireland.
‘Notoriously, similar strictures apply to Whitehall and Westminster, But party divisions in Northern Ireland aggravate the problems; and according to the sole economic report on the implications of Brexit made by Oxford Economics, Northern Ireland is likely to be the region “ most vulnerable to the economic consequences.”
So far, so no surprises. Nor are there any in the paper’s list of Brexit “options” already raised in Slugger. The report makes two important strategic points. The UK government has yet to decide how to consult the three devolved administrations on the Art 50 terms.That much was clear from Brexit Secretary David Davis’s visit to Belfast. The joint ministerial committee and the British -Irish institutions do not constitute effective forums. And the Executive has so far devised no mechanism for business and the rest of civil society to feed in ideas and concerns for developing an eventual strategy.
In August 2016 the First Minister and Deputy First Minister wrote to Theresa May outlined a number of key concerns, namely: the implications of Brexit for the border and especially for the agri-food industry, the need to ensure business competitiveness through ease of access to trade and labour markets, energy supply, structural funding and funding for the peace process. The concerns were presented as ‘initial thoughts’ only.
Representatives from Northern Ireland business organizations have issued a joint statement ‘Moving on from Brexit’ echoing the concerns raised by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and calling for access to the single market to be maintained. How to involve these and other voices in developing the Northern Ireland position demands some creative thinking on who should be involved, when and how, and whether the fora – and which – might and should be limited to Northern Ireland, engage the other devolved regions and involve a cross-border dimension.
Perhaps the most useful part of the briefing paper is the e formidable list of questions, sector by sector. The following gives only a flavour. A final point from the paper. Has Northern Ireland the capacity to deal with this agenda? – Again the same question is being asked of Whitehall.
What are the issues Northern Ireland must consider?
Agriculture Fisheries. Environmental policy. Energy policy. Trade and investment. The border, the free movement of people, immigration and the Common Travel Area. The border and free movement of goods. Peace funding and cross-border cooperation Structural funding Research and development higher education. Citizens’ rights
Agriculture is one of Northern Ireland’s most important industries in terms of both an annual turn-over of some £4.5 billion and a workforce of some 29,000 people. Northern Ireland is more dependent on the agricultural sector (including the agri-food business).. It has been estimated that for every pound earned by Northern Irish farmers, some 87 pence comes from the EU’S Single Farm Payment. Challenges were already lying ahead for Northern Ireland farming sector as the CAP continued to undergo major reform, focusing much less on price support and seeking to agriculture competitive and to ensure better quality goods and lower prices for consumers.
Will the Northern Ireland Executive assume responsibility for developing and administering a Northern Irish agriculture policy following Brexit? How will it manage these responsibilities? . What funding mechanisms would be put in place to replace the payments that currently come from the EU and specifically, the CAP?
Can arrangements be put in place to allow Northern Irish agricultural products to be exported to the EU tariff- and quota-free?
How much do employers in Northern Ireland within the agricultural and horticultural sectors rely on migrant and/or seasonal workers from the EU? How can the supply of such workers be maintained post-Brexit?
How will Brexit impact on the supply of electricity from the Republic of Ireland and the idea of a single market for electricity on the island of Ireland? 5. How much would Brexit impact on the energy sector in the Republic of Ireland, particularly given the growing importance of gas and electricity connectors and the reality that much of the island of Ireland’s energy needs is imported?
Trade and investment
Post-Brexit how would trade between the UK and the EU be regulated?
Would free trade continue? . Would tariffs and quotas be reintroduced?
. Would the principles of the free movement of goods, services and capital be maintained in trade relations between the UK and the EU?
The border, the free movement of people, immigration and Common Travel Area
Will a new UK immigration policy require the imposition of restrictions on the movement of people between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?
Can the continuation of the CTA be reconciled with the UK abandoning the free movement of workers and persons in its new relationship with the EU?
How does Northern Ireland ensure issues relating to the border and to the CTA are effectively represented in the withdrawal negotiations and the negotiations on a new UK-EU relationship? 15.
How does Northern Ireland ensure its interests are effectively represented and reflected in the development of UK immigration policy post-Brexit?
To what extent can tariffs be gathered and quotas be enforced without physical border controls? 2. How might physical border controls – if needed – be organized and where?
Peace funding and cross-border cooperation
How would EU funding for cross-border cooperation be affected? 5. What would be the implications for peacebuilding? .
Will EU cross-border funding (INTERREG) be replaced by national/ regional authorities? . What will happen to the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB)?
. How will other cross-border bodies be affected?
. Will EU Peace funding for Northern Ireland stop if the UK leaves the EU?
. Is peace funding still needed? . How can Northern Ireland’s interests regarding peace funding and cross community development be protected?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London