Head of North’s civil service warns of no-deal Brexit consequences

David Sterling says administrators still being guided by letter from before collapse of executive

 Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling making his  speech in Brussels.  Photograph: European Policy Centre/PA Wire

Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling making his speech in Brussels. Photograph: European Policy Centre/PA Wire

 

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has warned that a no-deal Brexit would be deeply concerning for the North.

David Sterling said some two-thirds of cross-Border trade involved supply chain issues and many businesses would simply not be able to cope with tariff and non-tariff barriers and the customs form filling that would be required.

He said SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises) were uniquely vulnerable in the UK to a no-deal outcome. “They are already trading within fine margins,” he said.

Speaking at the Brussels think-tank, the European Policy Centre, Mr Sterling, was in town with fellow Northern officials to meet senior EU negotiators to explain the realities of the Northern Ireland economy.

He said Northern Irish civil servants were still being guided on Brexit by a letter from the first and deputy first ministers after the executive had collapsed. But it was not their function to set out policy or prioritise, that was the function of politicians. The government in Northern Ireland collapsed in January 2017.

Mr Sterling said although he welcomed the recent decision of the Northern Secretary Karen Bradley to legally clarify the powers of civil servants in the absence of an executive, “that can never be a substitute for democratically elected ministers”.

However, he said he remained optimistic that a Brexit deal would be done in time.