Belfast Telegraph

New IRA may use Brexit to recruit more members, says PSNI chief

Opportunity: ACC Tim Mairs
Opportunity: ACC Tim Mairs
Chris Grayling

By George Ryan

A senior PSNI officer has warned that Brexit could provide a recruitment "opportunity" for the New IRA and other dissident paramilitary groups.

In a BBC Panorama documentary, due to be aired tonight, Assistant Chief Constable Tim Mairs also said Brexit could lead to smugglers and paramilitaries co-operating.

He said: "We know that the New IRA and other groups continue to recruit people and we believe that Brexit provides an opportunity for them to encourage people to recruit."

He added that currently, the PSNI does not see any upsurge in recruitment or violence being driven specifically by Brexit.

Mr Mairs also explained the fears that potential price differences on the border created by tariffs could create "new opportunities" for organised crime groups to exploit. He said: "We would see, traditionally, connections between some of those groups and more violent groups."

He added: "The potential impact of a no-deal on the economy in Northern Ireland is significant and that would, in our view, present potentially significant security concerns moving into the future."

In the same programme, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is accused of trying to "silence" road hauliers from raising concerns about a no-deal Brexit.

The Road Haulage Association, the trade body representing freight companies, said Mr Grayling threatened to stop involving the organisation after it communicated with the press following a private briefing with the Transport Secretary last August.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said Mr Grayling left him a voicemail after the association issued a press release about the meeting.

In it, Mr Grayling said: "I've got to say how very disappointed I am. I had intended to involve you closely in the planning over the next few months, but issuing a press release straight after a meeting like that makes it much more difficult for me to do that."

Mr Burnett said he felt Mr Grayling was "trying to silence an industry that's trying to help Government guide them".

He added: "My sense of that message was, either shut up or you don't engage. You either play ball with us or you won't be part of the negotiations on behalf of the industry."

The RHA has acknowledged that discussions with the Government have continued after the voicemail message was sent.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The RHA has been heavily involved in our EU exit preparatory work and we will continue to involve them at every stage of our planning.

"It is extremely unfortunate when details of private conversations held in confidence are made public in a press release."

The documentary will also feature an interview with the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Philip Rycroft, who said a no-deal Brexit is something the public should be "worried" about.

Mr Rycroft said: "I think everybody should be worried about what happens in a no-deal situation. We would be taking a step into the unknown."

He added: "It's not in the UK's interest to have no-deal, it's not in the EU's interest to have a no-deal. The rational outcome over the next few months is to get a deal because that is overwhelmingly in the economic interest of both the EU and the UK."

Mr Rycroft was in charge of Brexit planning for 18 months before stepping down just before the March Brexit deadlin e.

He said there are around "16,000 civil servants whose jobs are dedicated to Brexit-related issues", in what he called "the biggest exercise across Government we've seen over the last few decades".

He added: "The planning I think is in good shape, absolutely... but of course what that doesn't mean is that there won't be an impact from Brexit, and particularly a no-deal Brexit, because that is a very major change and it would be a very abrupt change to our major trading relationship."

The BBC Panorama programme No-Deal Brexit: Are We Ready? will air on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm

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