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How many civil servants in his Department have been assigned to work on issues relating to the UK leaving the EU; and how many additional civil servants his Department estimates it will need over the period leading up to the UK leaving the EU.
Officials across the whole Department are working to ensure that the interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced as the UK prepares to leave the EU. We will continue to monitor what further support is required.
The Northern Ireland Office did little preparation for Brexit, and it appears from the response to a written question that I tabled that several private consultancy firms are profiting from this lack of preparation. How many contracts have been awarded to consultancy firms and external organisations?
The agricultural and fishing sector in Northern Ireland creates some 70,000 jobs. It also produces 3.25% of Northern Ireland’s gross value added, which equates to £1.1 billion at basic prices. Could the Minister confirm that civil service personnel will be in place in sufficient numbers to ensure a smooth transition for the UK out of the EU?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. We do recognise the importance of that sector in Northern Ireland. There is a good dialogue between the sector and the Department. Cabinet members have met leading food manufacturers and members of the agricultural sector, and that dialogue will continue.
Recent reports in the United States show that advice given by our civil servants to the US State Department prior to the referendum was that it need not do any preparatory work, because “Brexit can’t possibly happen, so don’t worry about it.” Was the same crass advice being given by the NIO to our partners, and especially to the Irish Government?
I do not recognise the comments that have just been made. We have an extremely good relationship with the Irish Government. We will continue that dialogue and work with them.