Northern Ireland needs Brexit clarity from a UK Government “consumed” by the coronavirus emergency, the Belfast civil servant in charge of the country’s preparations said.
Two scenarios have been drawn up at Stormont depending on whether or not Britain secures a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU.
Time is tight but what is needed from London is clarity on these issuesAndrew McCormick
Without one, the border protocol surrounding compliance with aspects of the Irish Republic’s system is expected to apply, senior official Andrew McCormick said.
He said: “Time is tight but what is needed from London is clarity on these issues.”
Civil servants are assuming neither the UK nor Europe will request an extension of the one-year transition agreement due to run out at the end of the year.
The director general of international relations for the devolved administration gave evidence to a Stormont committee of Assembly members on Wednesday.
He acknowledged the focus had been on combating the coronavirus infection.
He said: “The UK Government has also been consumed by, the bandwidth for activity has been dominated by the virus.”
NI Executive Brexit Sub-committee (as per NDNA) is no more - replaced by arrangement where NI Executive holds single agenda item meetings focused on Brexit issues - being discussed now @NIAEOCttee #Brexit— NI Assembly Post-Brexit Brief (@NIAEUMatters) April 29, 2020
The chair of the group charged with consulting with the devolved regions is Michael Gove, who has also had to devote his time to the virus crisis.
Mr McCormick said: “This is a very, very challenging situation, and in that we all do what we possibly can to contribute positively to resolving and moving these issues on.
“There is no lack of pressure from us at official level and then engagements at ministerial level pushing the UK Government for more clarity and resolution of the issues that matter to us.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman has said the Government had no plan to change course on the trade agreement negotiations.
Following the first meeting of the EU-UK joint committee in March, the European Commission said the two sides had agreed on the importance for the UK to “set out its plans over the coming months” regarding the implementation of the Irish protocol to prevent a hard border.
A statement released said the parties agreed on the importance for the UK to setting out its plans over the coming months on implementation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
It said there was an urgent need to prepare for introduction of customs procedures for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and ensuring all necessary sanitary and agricultural disease controls as well as other regulatory checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from outside the EU.
Meanwhile, the first meeting of a special committee of officials charged with enforcing the Northern Ireland/Ireland protocol is due to be held on Thursday.
The European Commission has pressed the case for opening a technical office in Belfast to maintain a presence on the ground.
The British Government argues that is not necessary.
Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said the UK Government was not delivering on commitments in the EU Withdrawal Agreement regarding the ongoing presence in Northern Ireland.
He added: “The UK’s dispute over an EU office in Belfast is petty and at odds with the Withdrawal Agreement.
“This gamesmanship from the UK government is reflective of their wider approach of not taking preparations for the implementation of the protocol seriously.”