No-deal Brexit: TEO Preparations

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 13th October 2020

1. Mr Catney asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether a dedicated unit has been established in their Department to manage exiting from the European Union without a deal at the end of the transition period. (AQO 848/17-22)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Following Executive agreement, the EU future relations team in the Executive Office has been coordinating readiness planning across all Departments to include an option for a non-negotiated outcome. That work builds on preparations made in the lead up to a potential no-deal exit in 2019. The Executive Office has established an interdepartmental working group on operational readiness, which meets regularly to consider cross-cutting issues and challenges. While we are preparing for a non-negotiated outcome, it is important to remember that the protocol will still apply in that scenario.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the First Minister for her answer. Does she share my concerns that, even if there is a deal by the end of the year, we are too far behind in implementing parts of the Northern Ireland protocol to avoid major disruption at the end of the transition period?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I hope that the Member agrees with me that the best outcome would be for an agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom so that we can move forward together. There have already been some ways of dealing with what the Member refers to. He will have noticed that, for qualifying goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, the statutory instrument already accepts that whatever is freely available in Northern Ireland at the moment will be taken as qualifying goods. However, that will be revisited in July 2021. So, there is already an acknowledgement that some of these issues will not be ready in time. That is the same whether goods are coming from the Republic of Ireland through Northern Ireland into Great Britain or, indeed, from other places in the European Union into Great Britain.

Therefore, there already are some ways of dealing with the pressure that is undoubtedly there, and I welcome the fact that there is that acknowledgement because it gives some certainty to our companies. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the UK Government to try to get more clarity for our businesses because we recognise the need to provide clarity for our businesses and for our citizens.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Will the First Minister detail the scope of the work that the operational readiness team is involved in?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As I have said to the House already, the group came into being after our Executive meeting on 15 June. It was really to provide a focus across government, recognising that there are many Departments involved in operational readiness.

The first meeting of the interdepartmental working group on operational readiness took place on 1 July 2020. Initially, it met only monthly, but now it meets fortnightly. While a non-negotiated outcome is very different from a no-deal Brexit, which Operation Yellowhammer was dealing with this time last year, similar themes and issues arise. Much of the preparatory work was undertaken for Yellowhammer. We are building on that in the event that there is a non-negotiated outcome. I very much hope that that is not the case, because I think that a non-negotiated outcome would be the worst outcome for everyone.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

Why did Sinn Féin and the DUP opposed delivery of the New Decade, New Approach commitment to establish an Ad Hoc Committee on Brexit?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

We did so because we very much believe that there is a need for the Executive as a whole to discuss the issues that are in front of us. We do that every week at the Executive subcommittee. The place for scrutiny of all those matters is in the departmental Committees, whether that be the Agriculture Committee, the Economy Committee or, indeed, the Executive Office Committee. We felt, therefore, that setting up an additional level of bureaucracy was not the way in which to proceed, but instead to give scrutiny Committees their place so that they could take the matter forward.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Before we move on to the next question, I advise Members that question 6 has been withdrawn.