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Divided Stormont Executive will hit Northern Ireland in Brexit talks: Report

By Yvette Shapiro

The Stormont Executive is "manifestly unprepared" for Brexit, according to a group of leading political experts from Queen's University.

Launching a report on the implications of the referendum result, Professor David Phinnemore said divisions between the DUP and Sinn Fein and their opposing views on Brexit could hold Northern Ireland back.

"We have a divided Executive," added Prof Phinnemore. "They have fundamentally different views on what should happen next in terms of Brexit and that creates difficulties for agreeing a position for Northern Ireland."

The report for the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building, prepared by Prof Phinnemore and fellow Queen's academics, concluded that Northern Ireland was further disadvantaged because Stormont had no contingency plans for the outcome of June's referendum.

"Compounding these fundamental differences is the fact that the Executive failed to commission any scenario planning for the event that there was a Leave vote and so was manifestly unprepared for the outcome," the report said.

"The same can be said for the Assembly. There needs to be a multi-sector approach that goes beyond the business community, which has a privileged position when it comes to informing the debate on exiting the EU. The wider community voice is under-developed."

The intervention came as Mairtin O Muilleoir said he was as far apart from Westminster on the Brexit issue as "Belfast is from Boston". The Finance Minister was speaking following a meeting with David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who visited Northern Ireland on Thursday.

"I believe we should respect the vote to remain that the people here voted for in the North," Mr O Muilleoir said.

"What I asked him (David Davis) to do was to make a real effort on behalf of the bodies that are expecting peace funds. It is absolutely essential that our voice is heard."

Colette Fitzgerald, head of the European Commission office in Northern Ireland, said she was sending reports to Brussels "every day" on the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote.

"People are constantly ringing me and asking how their sector will be affected," added Ms Fitzgerald. "My answer is to give them the phone number for 10 Downing Street.

"Concerns being expressed about the border, peace process and agriculture are well known in Brussels. The reaction there is one of deep sadness."

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