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Stormont leaders have fallen asleep at the wheel on Brexit, claims SDLP

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Matthew O’Toole

Matthew O’Toole

Colin McGrath

Colin McGrath

Matthew O’Toole

The SDLP has accused the First and deputy First Minister of a "conspiracy of silence" about how Brexit will affect Northern Ireland.

The party's Brexit spokesman Matthew O'Toole MLA, and Colin McGrath MLA, who chairs the Assembly's Executive Office Committee, said the leaders of the Stormont administration appear "asleep at the wheel" on Brexit.

The pair accused them of being content to let the UK Government do what it wishes in relation to the interests of Northern Ireland.

The Executive office, said the first ministers had attended various meetings with EU and UK officials, attended the Executive Office Assembly committee to provide updates and party nominated representatives had been briefed.

The two influential MLAs said the Executive Office - which coordinates Brexit policy here - has yet to give the public or the Assembly any detailed update on the process, and claimed Northern Ireland businesses have received next to no information about preparations.

They said there have been no official updates to the public and businesses on how the Brexit process will be implemented, and no updates to the Assembly on upcoming programme of Brexit legislation.

"It is clear that the UK Government has little but reckless disregard for the interests of NI in the Brexit process, but we shouldn't accept this level of complacency from the leaders of our own devolved government," Mr O'Toole said.

"The Assembly has not had a single formal update from the Executive Office on Brexit or the delivery of the protocol since we reformed in January.

"That is nothing short of shocking.

"Covid-19 is not an acceptable excuse, it is even more of a reason for businesses and workers to get certainty from ministers.

"The Assembly wouldn't even have debated Brexit if the SDLP hadn't brought a motion to the floor calling for a transition extension.

"The First Minsters should stop the photo ops and give the Assembly - and more importantly the people of Northern Ireland - the clarity and leadership we need," he said.

Executive Office committee chairman Mr McGrath added that during recent updates to the committee, ministers have appeared as a pair and then proceeded to offer different views on matters.

"We must know if this is what is being projected to the British Government and European Union or does the existence of such differing views mean that no perspective at all is articulated during negotiations," he said.

"Time is slowly slipping away and we need more than just soundbites."

The Executive Office, in a statement said: "The First Minister and deputy First Minister have attended two meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations). They have also engaged directly with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Paymaster General on behalf of the Executive seeking engagement on a range of Protocol implementation issues, and on the main negotiations with the EU. Ministers have also represented NI’s interests at both meetings of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee.

“The First Minister, deputy First Minister, Junior Ministers and officials have regularly attended the TEO Assembly Committee to provide an update on these key meetings.

“Work is ongoing across the NICS in preparation for the end of the transition period and the Executive has agreed to commence readiness planning, however negotiations with the EU on the future relationship are ongoing and readiness planning will be dependent on the outcome of the negotiations."

The statement continued: "Since January, senior officials have provided comprehensive briefings for Executive Ministers at meetings of the Brexit Sub-Committee, Executive Committee considering EU Exit Matters, and also at Executive Meetings with a dedicated EU Exit agenda item. Party nominated representatives have also been briefed.

“The volume of EU Exit legislation required is fluid and likely to change following any agreements reached in negotiations and clarity of the implementation of the Protocol. The Executive will be monitoring progress of this legislative programme on a regular basis and updating the Assembly as required.”

Belfast Telegraph