Belfast Telegraph

Head of the civil service or Santa, it's scare tactics, says Sammy Wilson over Brexit warning

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

DUP MP Sammy Wilson dismissed the head of the Northern Ireland civil service's warning of dire consequences for the region in the event of a no-deal Brexit as "scare tactics".

He said he didn't care if David Sterling was the "head of the civil service or Santa Claus" and accused him of writing the letter for "political motives".

In the Commons during Northern Ireland questions, minister John Penrose described the letter as "politically charged" saying it had raised eyebrows.

In response the Executive Office described the correspondence as a a "factual, objective update" on the work of the Northern Ireland departments on their Brexit planning.

"In a number of places, it repeats and/or amplifies the UK Government assessment,” it said in a statement.

On Tuesday a letter emerged from the man tasked with running Northern Ireland in the absence of government to the Northern Ireland parties. He warned the inability to prepare for a no-deal Brexit put a strain on businesses which could lead to their collapse or relocation sparking a "sharp increase" in unemployment.

While saying he did not think there would be food shortages, he said choice on shop shelves would be reduced, there would be higher prices and likely an increase in energy bills.

Sammy Wilson - appearing in front of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning, was asked what he made of claims Brexit would make a united Ireland more likely.

He said that was an "example of the scare tactics, like we have got from David Sterling".

Responding to those in the room pointing out he was effectively head of the Northern Ireland government, Mr Wilson said: "I don't care whether he is the head of the civil service or whether he is Santa Claus. It really doesn't matter.   

"The fact of the matter is he has got it wrong."

It was wholly inappropriate. Jim Alister

Pointing to studies which suggest a drop in gross domestic product of between two and three percent in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the East Antrim MP said the government would mitigate for the impact.

He said the Bank of England's quantitative easing after the referendum result showed how it was possible to mitigate any negative impacts of Brexit on the economy.

"This idea that some how or other there is an economic catastrophe around the corner there may well be an impact of no deal but the government has got fiscal and monetary measures in which to deal with it."

Mr Wilson said the withdrawal agreement had caused huge concern in the unionist community although he thought it "odd" those in the business community appeared not so concerned given, he said, it would block Northern Ireland firms from being part of UK trade deals and place barriers in trade between NI and the rest of the UK.

Also appearing in front of the committee was Clare Bailey of the Green Party, Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit and TUV leader Jim Allister.

Mr Allister described David Sterling's letter as an "unbalanced production which reeks of politics" and has written to Mr Sterling about his concerns.

"Is this really the head of our civil service talking down NI as if it dares to follow the national interest of leaving the EU? I felt it was wholly inappropriate."

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