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Government's exit plan flimsy at best, says MP

By Noel McAdam

Published 07/07/2016

Claire Hanna of the SDLP with Stephen Gethins at the Mac in Belfast yesterday
Claire Hanna of the SDLP with Stephen Gethins at the Mac in Belfast yesterday

The Government's plans for leaving the EU would be lucky to fit on the back of a cigarette packet, an MP has claimed.

Scottish National Party MP Stephen Gethins said answers to vital questions on the UK's withdrawal had been answered with "I don't know" from Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin.

He was speaking as the DUP started Cabinet-level talks on the UK pull-out from the EU.

MPs Nigel Dodds and Ian Paisley had discussions with Mr Letwin - and insisted the Stormont Executive must be involved in Brexit negotiations.

But their statement came as Mr Gethins criticised Mr Letwin. He said the minister had appeared before Westminster's foreign affairs select committee on Tuesday and proved unable to answer questions.

Speaking at a one-day conference in Belfast, Mr Gethins said: "That is not a good state of affairs. There has been a significant vacuum in leadership from Westminster. I am not sure if the plans they have would fit on the back of a fag packet."

David Cameron has tasked Mr Letwin with dealing with requests and information for the new Cabinet office set up to deal with Brexit, amid on-going uncertainty over when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered.

DUP deputy leader Mr Dodds said the meeting "was a valuable opportunity to hear from Oliver Letwin about the work now ongoing to prepare for Brexit".

"We also highlighted a range of issues which are of vital importance to Northern Ireland from constitutional to economic issues," he said.

"We outlined the absolute necessity of the Northern Ireland Executive being involved at every step in the process both at official and ministerial levels.

"It is extremely important that the Government is committed to that process," the North Belfast MP added.

UUP MLA Philip Smith however, attacked what he called a "farcical" lack of leadership from the DUP leaving Northern Ireland "rudderless".

The Strangford MLA said: "It is clear that despite having campaigned to leave the European Union, the DUP are without a plan for our future outside it.

"It is totally farcical that a party that recommended people vote to the leave the EU then demonstrates that they had not planned for that outcome."

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