Belfast Telegraph

Stormont run like secret police, slams SDLP as unseen study on risks of leaving EU is unearthed

By Adrian Rutherford

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been accused of government secrecy to rival the Stasi amid a row over a previously unseen file examining the impact of Brexit.

The document lists more than 20 ways leaving the EU could damage Northern Ireland.

It was produced by civil servants in a unit of the former Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, but does not appear to have been made public.

It is dated May 2015 - 13 months before the historic vote to leave Europe.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who described the document's emergence as "explosive", said he was given the clear impression that no planning took place.

He suggested its non-publication could have breached the ministerial code on openness.

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said Stormont had the most secretive government in the history of devolution. "Burying a Civil Service report on Brexit until after the referendum was a clandestine attempt to skew the public debate and should never have happened," she added.

The paper, obtained by The Detail website, lists a series of ways in which a UK decision to leave the EU could hit Northern Ireland.

These include:

  • Damaging the NI economy;
  • Impacting on business and trade;
  • Reducing foreign direct investment
  •  Hitting employment
  • Creating political difficulties.

Ms Bradley, the SDLP's economy spokeswoman, said the secrecy of Stormont was on a par with the Stasi - the state security service of the former East Germany. It has been described as one of the most repressive and secret intelligence and police agencies.

Ms Bradley added: "Their fresh start has been tainted by an arrogance and deceit that the Stasi would be proud of. What we now have is perhaps the most secretive government in the history of devolution."

Earlier, Mr Nesbitt asked Speaker Robin Newton to examine the Assembly record to confirm that it "has not in any way been misled on contingency planning by the Executive for a Brexit vote".

He also asked Mr Newton to consider whether not publishing the document represented a breach of the ministerial code on openness.

He added: "I suggest that it was in the public interest for this document to be published."

But Mr Newton said the sharing of Executive information was not a matter for the Speaker.

The 15-page analysis, obtained by The Detail, devoted three pages to listing "Potential areas of conflict for Northern Ireland in the event of Brexit". The document warns: "Although the UK is a net contributor to the EU, NI is a net beneficiary, so the immediate financial impact to NI is likely to be negative."

It goes on to describe how Northern Ireland could lose access to billions of pounds in funding. The document cites €862m in structural funds and European Social Fund from 2014 to 2020, €2.5bn in Common Agricultural Policy funding covering the same period, and competitive EU funding which in the period 2011/12 to 2013/14 had amounted to £72.7m.

It examined how leaving the EU could affect Northern Ireland's ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment - a crucial aspect of Stormont's job creation plans.

A spokesperson for The Executive Office said: "Officials prepare a range of papers on a regular basis, many of which are working papers and do not form submissions sent to ministers. This analysis paper was not sent to ministers for consideration following its completion."

It added that "the document contains well rehearsed arguments which were openly being aired during the referendum campaign and would have added nothing to the wider debate".

Belfast Telegraph

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