Belfast Telegraph

Brexit's impact on many cross-border initiatives finally revealed in report

MPs Hilary Benn (right) and Pat McFadden on the border in 2017
MPs Hilary Benn (right) and Pat McFadden on the border in 2017

By Mairead Holland

More than 140 wide-ranging areas of life in Northern Ireland will be affected by Brexit, a previously confidential report has revealed.

The document identifies current areas of cross-border co-operation which will be impacted.

They range from the North West Cancer Centre and All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network to cross-border policing, free travel for senior citizens and mobile phone roaming charges.

There is even reference to rules to prevent the looting of national treasures.

The 'mapping exercise', conducted by the Government in autumn 2017, was published by the Brexit select committee on Thursday.

It follows a Freedom of Information request by a member of the public to the Cabinet Office.

Previously, it had not been shared with the select committee, despite repeated requests from its chairman, Labour MP Hilary Benn.

The Government has never published its full Brexit impact statement for Northern Ireland. However, the 35-page mapping exercise gives an insight into the extent we could be impacted.

The scope of areas highlighted is broad and includes everything from health, travel, waterways, animal movement and organised crime and drugs to benefit fraud, schooling, library provision and teacher and doctor qualifications.

For each of the 142 sectors, the document specifies the extent to which it is underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement as well as by existing EU legal and policy frameworks.

In the case of the North West Cancer Centre, the report points out that the initiative was based on an intergovernmental agreement between Health Ministers from both jurisdictions.

It says the centre at Altnagelvin Area Hospital, which opened in November 2016, "offers radiotherapy services closer to home for many patients from the north west, reducing their travel time significantly".

Similarly, the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Network is identified as ensuring that "vulnerable children" receive treatment on the island of Ireland. The network has a single surgical centre in Dublin and a specialist children's cardiology centre in Belfast, supported by cardiology expertise in local hospitals. There is also cross-border cooperation on organ and tissues transplants.

Nineteen areas are linked to the 'avoiding a hard border objective' and include everything from customs and physical checks on live animals crossing the border to rules on movement of national treasures.

Current EU rules "stop national treasures from leaving the country and prevent illicit trafficking and looting".

Other less obvious areas mentioned in the report include the operation of cross-border taxis; repatriation of waste and cross-border movement of waste, and even the management of Lough Erne eel stocks.

It also specifies areas such as invasive alien species, chemicals regulation and wildfire initiatives.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said that in the majority of areas ongoing cross-border cooperation would be addressed by retaining the common travel area and pursuing an agreement on free trade and customs.

"In many cases, where frameworks are highly integrated, the circumstances are not unique to our province," she said.

"For instance the conditions required to operate both the Enterprise service between Dublin and Belfast and the Channel Tunnel will require a very similar technical agreement with Brussels. Genuine concerns in areas like agri-food and healthcare must be taken seriously."

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said an expert panel is not needed to show how disastrous a no-deal Brexit will be. He said: "The British Government has now convened a panel of experts to determine the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the North.

"It needn't have bothered as a range of experts have already given dire warnings of the disastrous impact a no-deal Brexit will have on the North's economy, our rights and the Good Friday Agreement."

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said the documents were part of "initial scoping work" by the Government, supported by the Civil Service here, the European Commission and the Republic.

Mr Lidington said they were intended to form the basis of discussion and not final products.

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