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SDLP: London blind to dangers of Brexit this side of Irish Sea

By Suzanne Breen

The SDLP has said a letter by the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service shows that Government ministers are "clueless" about Brexit's impact here.

In leaked correspondence, David Sterling privately warned that Downing Street's plan for the border fails to solve the major problems caused by the UK leaving the EU.

In the letter to UK Brexit official Olly Robbins, Mr Sterling said proposals in the Government's position paper on the border suffered from a number of practical problems and did not address certain "issues".

He also raised concerns that Whitehall was not engaging closely enough with officials in Northern Ireland with a good understanding of issues like the Good Friday Agreement and North-South co-operation.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said: "David Sterling raised a number of very key points which have yet to be addressed, months on, in London's proposals around the border.

"He is very well placed to know the impact on our economy and complications these unworkable proposals would bring, but he shouldn't have to be the one saying it.

"It is clear that not only are London ministers clueless about the impact on Northern Ireland, they are too arrogant to use the expertise that is here. It is a shocking dereliction of political duty to mute the political voice of people here."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "There is a massive irony in that Northern Ireland is the region most severely affected by Brexit, but it also suffers from currently not having any input into the process.

"Civil servants do their best to point out technical and operational challenges, but there is a clear need for a ministerial input to ensure all those challenges are properly put before ministers and senior civil servants at Whitehall."

In his letter, Mr Sterling pointed out that plans to exempt small businesses from customs suffered from issues of practicality.

The director-general of the CBI Carolyn Fairbairn said: "I share the view that it is really about detail.

"When people talk about technical solutions, they need to understand what it is like to be a small business operating across the border. It is absolutely essential. These are people's lives. These are people's jobs."

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