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NI's economy particularly exposed to the fallout from Brexit: report

By Mark Edwards

Northern Ireland is "on the fault line" of the political earthquake that has followed the Brexit decision, according to a new report by business advisers Deloitte.

The report - In The State Of The State - says the economy here could be particularly exposed to uncertainties created by the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

It found the absence of an Executive is the main preoccupation among leaders in the public sector with a leadership vacuum having growing implications as policy decisions remain untaken.

Jackie Henry, senior partner at Deloitte in Belfast, said: "Under legal advice, civil servants have continued to maintain government and press ahead on programmes in accordance with guidance from ministers when they were last in post.

"Civil servants may well be minded to stretch their mandated powers in the public interest, but could face judicial review for doing so. But many will be aware that as the months go on, policy decisions that require ministerial approval have not been taken.

"That could come at an opportunity cost for Northern Ireland, especially where public sector reform stagnates and decisions that could save money are not taken."

Some of those quizzed as part of the research said direct rule could well begin by the start of 2018 in a bid to restore budget mechanisms and provide decision-making.

However, some interviewees asked whether the existing model for devolution may need to be rethought for a future Northern Ireland administration.

Concern was also raised in the report about how the border issue will be dealt with in Brexit negotiations.

Deloitte commissioned Ipsos MORI to interview 1,071 people based across the UK (including 60 in Northern Ireland) regarding their attitudes to public spending, the impact of austerity and what should be protected from cuts.

Ms Henry said: "The absence of an executive means that Northern Ireland does not have its own ministerial voices taking part in Brexit debates, but its civil servants have found their colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union to be open to their representations, receptive to their input and engaging in discussions.

"In Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK, the dangers of Brexit are at present more apparent than any benefits that could emerge.

"But as responsibilities are repatriated to the UK from the EU, there could be potential to strengthen Northern Ireland's powers."

Belfast Telegraph

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