SDLP accuse First Ministers of ‘culture of silence’ on Brexit

STORMONT’S first ministers have been accused of “falling asleep at the wheel”, amid claims of a lack of information on Brexit.

SDLP MLAs Matthew O’Toole and Colin McGrath say Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill are engaged in a “conspiracy of silence”.

And they have called on them to “tell the public and the assembly what is being done to implement the protocol and protect the people of Northern Ireland”.

In a statement, they said that with only weeks until the likely recess of the assembly, the Executive Office – which coordinates Brexit policy – has yet to give the public or the assembly any detailed update.

“Northern Ireland businesses, despite their urgent calls for clarity, have received next to no information on required preparations – with responsibility deflected onto the UK government,” they said.

Mr O’Toole, a South Belfast MLA and the party’s Brexit spokesman, said the assembly has not received a single formal update from the Executive Office on Brexit or the delivery of the protocol since it re-formed in January.

“That is nothing short of shocking. Covid-19 is not an acceptable excuse, it is even more of a reason for businesses and workers to get certainty from ministers,” he said.

“Last week, we had a three-paragraph update from the Executive Office on a North South Ministerial Council meeting that happened three months ago and lasted 11 minutes, at which ministers didn’t even raise the issue of Brexit.

“The DUP and Sinn Féin may have their own reasons for keeping schtum on Brexit and the protocol, but the people of Northern Ireland will not forgive us if we jeopardise their interests by falling asleep at the wheel and silently assenting to the mania of the Johnson government – and worse, not even doing the basic bits of legislative and logistical preparation that are in Stormont’s control.”

Mr McGrath, MLA for South Down and Executive Office committee chairman, said that during recent updates to the committee, Executive Office ministers had “appeared as a pair and then proceeded to offer different views on matters”.

“We must know if this is what is being projected to the British government and European Union or does the existence of such differing views mean that no perspective at all is articulated during negotiations?” he said.

The Irish News contacted the Executive Office for a response but none had been received by the time of going to press.

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