SDLP MLA Colin McGrath has labelled plans to go ahead with the Brexit withdrawal process during the coronavirus crisis as “ludicrous”.
Calls have been previously been made to delay the Brexit transition period because of the virus but the government has refused to budge on the December 31, 2020, deadline.
Mr McGrath, who is the chair of the Executive Office committee, made his comments during this afternoon’s committee meeting at Stormont.
He stated that the British Government has refused to “shed its ideological fervour” and believes it will not be able to cope in dealing with Brexit as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Governments across these islands and across the world are rightly focussed on their response to the Covid-19 crisis, prioritising the urgent need to save lives over other political matters,” said the South Down MLA.
“The virus will have a lasting impact on this society and is already responsible for a substantial economic shock.
“It is ludicrous that in these circumstances, the British Government refuses to shed its ideological fervour and admit that it is not possible to construct a new economic relationship with Europe in the short time left.
“Government bandwidth is stretched to its limit dealing with the public health emergency we’re facing.
“I have no confidence that it can sustain the pressure of Brexit negotiations on top of that.
“It’s not even desirable that they should try to manage two challenges of this magnitude - it can only result in a deficient outcome.”
He added that health service staff and frontline workers deserve to know that the government is focused on managing the virus.
“That cannot be done in parallel to Brexit,” continued Mr McGrath.
“Whatever your view on Brexit, and I continue to oppose it, it is beyond doubt that requesting an extension to the negotiating period is not a sign of weakness, it is now a moral and economic imperative.”
The Northern Ireland Office has been approached for a response.