The UK Government’s handling of Brexit has been blasted in terms of Northern Ireland’s latest political crisis.
The Stormont Assembly has been effectively collapsed for more than a year while the DUP refuses to take part until their concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol are addressed.
Andrew McCormick, who formerly served as director general of international relations for the Executive Office, said there was “very, very inadequate” preparation ahead of Brexit.
He said by contrast the Irish Government had “thought through what they needed”, which he said showed in the way negotiations unfolded.
From the referendum result in 2016 there were several years of negotiations before the UK formally left the European Union, with the issue of how to handle the only land border with the EU in Ireland a particular sticking point.
Dr McCormick was secretary of a Stormont Executive sub committee dealing with Brexit issues from January 2020.
He said in the early meeting there were “some lively and substantive discussions”.
“But it was just too difficult an issue for the Northern Ireland institutions to deal with,” he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
“It was taking us into very sharp binary choices, on which it’s very, very hard to get resolution, and so the last few Executive committee meetings on Brexit that I was supporting lasted five minutes, because everyone had agreed there was no point having a discussion.
“It was just utterly dysfunctional, utterly hopeless, and fundamental responsibility for that lies with the misrepresentation of the nature of what was being agreed, especially from October 2019 onwards, when totally contradictory things were said by the Government, in Parliament and in documentation that was published.
“There were directly contradictory statements made.
“No wonder there was confusion and dysfunctionality. No wonder nobody in business could prepare properly because this was absolutely ludicrous.
“This is all demonstrably clear if you analyse the facts, and go through the documentation, the contradictions are there. That’s why we are where we are.
Dr McCormick said there was a distortion of what the Brexit settlement meant, and what was within the bounds of possibility.
He also said Brexit is part of what contributed to the separation between the British and Irish governments from 2020, which was detrimental to Northern Ireland.
“When the two governments aren’t working together, aren’t encouraging the parties to make the institutions work, that’s deeply dysfunctional,” he said.
“I place a lot of heavy responsibility there, yes things could have been done differently by Northern Ireland politicians, but the context was created by this issue.”
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