Belfast Telegraph

Tories not ignoring Northern Ireland and devolution far from damaged, claims DUP

MP Wilson rebuffs report claims on Brexit and border

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has rejected a report which claims Brexit has caused "substantial damage" to devolution and the government is largely ignoring Northern Ireland.

MP Sammy Wilson last night said the damage was being done by "those who harp on about the vote" and London had actually paid "far too much attention" to the border issue.

A research paper by Dr Katy Hayward of Queen's University Belfast and Edinburgh-based Dr Kirsty Hughes argues that Brexit has "deepened political divisions" in both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

They warned these tensions could be "further exacerbated" if Britain fails to reach a deal with the EU over its departure. 

"Overall, Brexit has already done substantial damage to the UK's political system as far as devolution is concerned," the two experts said in a blog published alongside the research paper.

"While the UK government continues to prioritise keeping its cabinet of rebels united and its majority in parliament via the support of the DUP, the democratic and policy concerns of the majority view in both Scotland and Northern Ireland has been largely ignored," they stated.

Dr Hughes and Dr Hayward said throughout the Brexit process the Tory government had chosen "emphasis on the unitary and centralised nature of UK politics" - highlighting Westminster's insistence that some powers returning from Brussels return to it rather than the devolved administrations as an example.

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Mr Davis with Middletown Centre for Autism chief executive Gary Cooper

"Devolution has been seen more as an irritation than as a central concern in planning Brexit," they said. 

Their paper forecast Northern Ireland will secure a differentiated deal "that keeps it closer to the EU than any other part of the UK". 

Dr Hayward said: "Brexit has brought the Irish border back to the centre of politics in Northern Ireland and the consequences of this are impossible to manage from Westminster alone." 

Responding to the paper, Mr Wilson said: "The facts are that we had a national referendum.

"Different parts of the country voted in different ways.

"Even in Northern Ireland there was a starkly different outcome in each constituency. Variations in outcome doesn't mean there will be substantial damage, it simply reflects different opinions."

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Brexit Secretary David Davis (right) with Peter Sheridan of Co-operation Ireland in south Armagh yesterday

He said Northern Ireland MPs had enjoyed "ample opportunities through debates, votes and committees" in Parliament to raise issues.

He added: "Given the amount of effort put into the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border, it is totally incredible to claim the government has ignored Northern Ireland.

"The truth is it has given far too much attention to what should be a non-issue given the minuscule levels of trade across the border."

Bur Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said Brexit would clearly create "new divisions, barriers and friction" and threaten the concept of a shared Northern Ireland.

"It will have not only a major impact upon our economy but also our political cohesion," he said.

"It is already a major factor behind the current talks impasse.

"However, it is possible to craft a pragmatic way forward in which special arrangements for this region can be put in place, based around remaining in the single market."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said: "It is obvious that at this critical juncture in the negotiations between the UK and EU, there are obvious concerns about how the future relationships on these islands will develop.

"While there are tensions between broad nationalism in Scotland and Northern Ireland and unionism, there is the opportunity for a pragmatic and sensible solution that works for everyone across these islands to be developed.

"Now is not the time to be ratcheting up tension, but instead we look to see the key stakeholders working behind the scenes to get a workable solution."

A government spokesman revealed it was working "to secure the best and most ambitious deal for the whole of the UK, including Scotland and Northern Ireland".

He added: "As the Prime Minister made clear - having seized the opportunities provided by Brexit, the UK will thrive as a strong and united country that works for everyone, no matter whether you voted Leave or Remain.

"The UK's departure from the EU will happen in a manner that respects and strengthens Scotland and Northern Ireland's devolution settlements.

"We have always been clear there will be a significant increase in powers for the devolved administrations of the UK."

Belfast Telegraph

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