Bradley accused of using £300m peace fund as bargaining chip for May's Brexit deal
Karen Bradley has been criticised after casting doubt on whether £300m of Government funding for peacebuilding in Northern Ireland could be delivered if there is a no-deal Brexit.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said the proposed Withdrawal Agreement provided the "legal basis" to offer the financial support to reconciliation initiatives in a joint-funding model with the EU and Irish government.
In the exit deal, the UK and EU have committed to maintaining, up to 2027, funding streams established in the mid-1990s to support projects in Northern Ireland and the border counties in the Irish Republic.
Asked if the £300m commitment announced by the Government yesterday was dependent on the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, Mrs Bradley said: "The legal basis upon which this can be delivered is the Withdrawal Agreement.
"It is set out in there and if we leave the European Union without a deal, we will have difficulties in finding a way that the EU and Irish government can spend money jointly with the UK Government in Northern Ireland on these important projects."
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, who was instrumental in establishing the PEACE Programme, responded angrily to her comments.
He said: "The decision by London, Dublin and Brussels to fund the PEACE Programme post-Brexit and beyond the current PEACE IV scheme should not be linked to support for Theresa May's bad deal.
"This is a crude and quite frankly insulting attempt at blackmail and is doomed to fail."
The DUP also criticised the Mrs Bradley's comments, branding them a "distasteful bluff".
MEP Diane Dodds said: "Ahead of Tuesday's crucial vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, it is disgraceful and disingenuous that the Secretary of State should use the issue of peace funding as a bargaining chip aimed at securing more votes for the flawed deal." She added: "The Prime Minister must move to clarify the Government position and to reiterate all-weather commitments to peace funding in Northern Ireland in all eventualities."
The proposed Peace Plus scheme will succeed the current Peace programme, which was designed to help promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland. The Peace programme has been running since 1995 with funding from the UK, Ireland and EU, and will end in 2020.
Last May, the EU set out its plan to make £109 million in funding to continue peace projects post-Brexit.
The overall funding commitments, if rolled out, will enable work to continue on the construction of almost £1.8bn worth of projects in both Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Among the projects to have received funding to date has been the £14.5m Peace Bridge in Londonderry, which opened in 2011.
Youth Action NI in Belfast is one of the organisations that has benefited from the existing scheme. The group used the money to set up the Youth Network for Peace, a regional project involving 10,000 young people in a range of social action projects on a cross-community and cross-border basis.
Mrs Bradley visited Youth Action's office in the city on Friday.
The Secretary of State did not go so far as to say the Government would stop funding the projects in a no-deal scenario, but she stressed that it would be difficult to find a way to do it.
"It's not about the quantum or the (level of) support, it's about how you legally deliver it," she said. "As a Government, to spend public money you need to have a legal basis to do so.
"The Withdrawal Agreement sets that out."