Brexit: Westminster committee to examine how backstop would work in North

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will also consider North’s ‘preparedness’ for no deal

The  consensus among the North’s business and farming leaders is that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is a better option than a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: iStock

The consensus among the North’s business and farming leaders is that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is a better option than a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: iStock

 

An influential cross-party committee of Westminster MPs has launched a new inquiry to focus on how the implementation of a backstop agreement would “work in practice” in the North.

The House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said on Wednesday that the inquiry would examine in detail the implications of the UK government’s EU withdrawal agreement on Northern Ireland and also look at the North’s “preparedness” for a no-deal Brexit.

Dr Andrew Murrison, chair of the committee, said the backstop had emerged as “a central concern in the government’s Brexit agreement and uncertainties remain about the effectiveness of no-deal planning”.

Dr Murrison said his committee therefore intends to “explore the implications” of the withdrawal agreement for Northern Ireland.

The committee has indicated that it will not question anyone in person during the inquiry but instead has requested that “written evidence” be submitted to it from anyone who has a view on the subject by January 21st, 2019.

The committee wants to scrutinise the “mechanisms” of the UK’s divorce deal which directly relate to the backstop and look closely at the steps which would need to be taken during the implementation period of any EU-UK deal that would remove the need for a backstop.

The NI Affairs Committee said it would be able to investigate key issues such as which goods travelling between Britain and the North would require extra checks from the start of the backstop, and whether Northern Ireland should be represented in any backstop discussions by civil servants from the North or UK MPS while the Northern Ireland Executive remains suspended.

Business consensus

The general consensus among the North’s business and farming leaders is that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is a better option than a no-deal Brexit which, according to some of the largest business bodies in Northern Ireland, would have a “catastrophic” impact on the economy.

But the NI Affairs Committee also intends to explore in detail to “what extent” the UK government has worked with businesses in the North to make contingency plans for a no-deal scenario.

It plans to investigate whether, if the UK were to crash out of the EU without a deal, there would be “scope” for the UK to “make a series of mini-deals with [the Republic] to manage cross-border issues”.

Business organisations in the North have said there is clear evidence that some firms in the North are gearing up for a worst-case scenario on Brexit.

Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland policy manager for the UK Freight Transport Association said a no-deal Brexit is “now a tangible threat” and businesses must prepare for that, while Manufacturing NI has repeatedly warned that manufacturing companies are exploring other options outside of the North.