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Top Brexit adviser in call for coherent plan from Executive

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/11/2016

Ken Brundle
Ken Brundle

Queen's and Ulster University are already being excluded from joint projects with other European universities as a result of the Brexit vote, it has been claimed.

And Northern Ireland companies are also facing major problems with their pension schemes, according to the head of a Brexit advisory group set up by the Ulster Unionist Party.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, Ken Brundle, who is chair of the Brexit Advisory Panel, called on First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to set up emergency mechanisms to cope with Brexit issues as they arise.

"Above all, we need a clear, coherent Brexit plan for Northern Ireland," argued Mr Brundle, who is also chair of the learning disability and mental health organisation Praxis Care.

"Brexit should be used as a catalyst to dramatically change the Northern Ireland economy promoting an enterprise culture and move away from a subvention-dependent society."

Given the province's unique standing as the only UK area which will have a land border with the EU after Brexit, he said the free movement of goods and capital and a bar on any tariffs or quotas were among the red lines "which must not be crossed".

Other red lines include no restrictions on the ability of businesses and organisations to recruit internationally, and a recognition that EU peace funds, which have been "vital for developing cross-community relations", must be continued or replaced.

After weeks of meetings with a range of bodies, Mr Brundle claimed there was a strong feeling of a lack of co-operation, with no one clearly articulating a collective voice for Northern Ireland, which also needs "a significant financial stimulus to address its longer term economic and infrastructure" issues.

"We urge the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to put in place with urgency mechanisms that can identify challenges and co-ordinate the wide range of issues and concerns that organisations and people in Northern Ireland are expressing," he said.

His comments came as Brexit was again discussed in the Assembly, with Mr McGuinness reporting on last week's North South Ministerial Council meeting in Armagh.

Alliance's former Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry asked Mr McGuinness to comment on speculation there was frustration in the Irish Government over the lack of clarity from the Stormont Executive on any special status for Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said: "Of course, the British Government have not disclosed their hand on the basis that they think that it would weaken their position in the negotiations, which inevitably puts the devolved institutions at a disadvantage."

He said the Council had taken the wise decision to put in place a high-level working group of the most senior civil servants from both administrations.

"In the Opposition in the Assembly, there are different opinions, and that is quite legitimate," he said.

"Even in our administration, there are different opinions. We have to reconcile all that and, hopefully, come to a position that can find favour with the vast majority of MLAs."

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