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Hain slams No.10's 'double standards' over Executive


Peter Hain

Peter Hain

Peter Hain

A former Secretary of State has accused the Government of double standards over its calls for Stormont to take greater responsibility for Northern Ireland's economy.

Peter Hain said Westminster "cannot have it both ways" by issuing the demand while at the same time inflicting "untold damage" through its Brexit policies.

Last week EU chief commissioner Michel Barnier confirmed there would be "checks and controls" between Britain and Northern Ireland under the agreement that will govern the UK's exit from the EU. Lord Hain, who served as Secretary of State from 2005 to 2007, said Northern Ireland will be disadvantaged on multiple fronts.

He said: "When the Chancellor Sajid Javid told the Financial Times that there will not be regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit and insisted firms must 'adjust' to new regulations, he confirmed that the Government is hell bent on an ideologically hard Brexit that could do untold damage to the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up the overwhelming majority of businesses in Northern Ireland.

"And these are the very businesses that the Government says it wants to be at the core of Northern Ireland's economic future.

"As the EU Withdrawal Bill currently stands, a raft of checks and controls will be placed on the movement of goods to and from Northern Ireland and Great Britain and this will inevitably lead to Northern Ireland facing barriers to trade and be at a competitive disadvantage in both the internal UK and EU markets."

Lord Hain, who has previously warned of the risks to peace in Northern Ireland caused by a hard Brexit, described it as "the worst of all worlds". Last week the BBC reported that the Northern Ireland economy slowed last year because of a contraction in the private sector.

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Lord Hain said businesses had been left in the dark around Brexit.

He added: "The Chancellor blithely says that businesses have had since 2016 to prepare even though they didn't know the exact terms.

"Small businesses in Northern still don't know the terms and the Government can't or won't tell them. There will be checks and controls between Northern Ireland and GB.

"There will be additional bureaucratic burdens on companies least able to carry them.

"How much will it cost? Will there be a VAT recovery processes? If tariffs are levied and then reclaimed how long will it take for rebates to be paid?

"Businesses simply do not know and that is not only incredible with only 11 months to go before the end of the transition period, it's intolerable.

"And while it is right that there should be democratic controls through Stormont built in to any new and developing post Brexit arrangements, to tell SMEs that perhaps every four years all might change - or all might not change - by a vote of the Assembly will create huge uncertainty for business investment and planning."

Lord Hain said there was support from across the business community and all political parties for damage limitation amendments to the Withdrawal Bill.

He added: "The Government needs to listen to those voices if a dogma-driven disaster for the Northern Ireland economy is to be averted."

In response, a UK Government spokeswoman said: "The protocol within the Withdrawal Agreement makes clear that Northern Ireland remains in the UK’s customs territory. It also provides for NI’s businesses and producers to have unfettered access for goods travelling from NI to GB.”

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