Belfast Telegraph

Brexit getting in the way of our job, PSNI chief Hamilton tells restored police board

By Mark Bain

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has warned the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit has become a major distraction to policing in Northern Ireland.

Speaking yesterday as the Policing Board met in Belfast for the first time in two years, he revealed his diary had been ripped up earlier this week to allow for five hours of meetings on the challenges posed by the exit process.

As a result he had to cut short talks with his Irish counterpart, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris - Mr Hamilton's former PSNI deputy - to instead deal with Brexit issues.

The Brexit distractions come at a time when the PSNI is struggling to cope with budget cuts and fewer officers.

In the past year, 366 police officers and 124 members of staff have left the service, and it will be autumn this year before any new appointments are made following last October's recruitment drive, in which 6,243 applications were received.

"Similar to many public services, the PSNI continues to operate in an environment of continually shrinking budgets, and over the past five years I have witnessed a reduction of £150m," the chief constable said.

"We have no certainty about the budget for 2019/20 and this lack of clarity leaves the PSNI in a difficult position when making decisions about the allocation of resources."

The chief constable said that preparing for Brexit has been "hugely challenging".

A special team has been established to plan for a hard Irish border as the PSNI addresses the complexities of policing the 310-mile frontier without certainty about the future.

"It's a hugely complex issue. We certainly will stay out of the political analysis, but whatever happens will have implications for policing, relationships with other countries around law enforcement, exchange of information, European Arrest Warrants and lots of things that are relevant to operational policing issues," Mr Hamilton said,

"We have to be engaged. The trick is actually navigating through the politics without being political, and we do that by firmly asking, 'What are the implications and what are the consequences against the various options?'

"Managing ambiguity is a key requirement for people in senior leadership. I'm not looking any sympathy around this. It is hugely challenging, but I think our planning around this is good.

"I think we're in the best place that we can be, and our work with our partners, other countries, other law enforcement agencies is in a really good place, so that whatever the political agreement or conclusion is on this, we will stand ready and be responsive so we can continue to keep people safe."

Mr Hamilton said there had been "limited additional funding to do the preparations".

"We got a small amount of money which helped create a very small team of three or four people, but the whole Brexit planning requires quite a bit of energy right across the organisation," he stressed.

"It's an opportunity lost and perhaps it's a distraction, but it's the reality of where we are.

"There's been a referendum, there's been a result, the politicians are now charged with working out how they're going to do this EU exit and we need to stand ready against the number of scenarios and working assumptions to ensure that policing can continue to function.

"We're planning for both deal and no deal and, actually, from a policing point of view, whatever happens there will be implications and consequences for policing.

"We can't get too focused on any one scenario. The trick for us will be to remain agile and dynamic and try to pre-empt as much of the challenge as possible and get workarounds wherever possible.

"We need to be responsible in making sure we are equipped to handle the implications. Many people live and work across the border and we will continue to work to ensure we're in the best possible position to protect and serve our communities, whatever the outcome of the exit process."

Belfast Telegraph

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