No Ex­ec­u­tive ul­ti­mately means no fo­cus for de­bate

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page -

There are numer­ous other as­pects of B rex it where lo­cal con­se­quences should be­gin to be an­tic­i­pated, in­sists econ­o­mist john simp­son

Po­ten­tial trad­ing bar­ri­ers fol­low­ing from Brexit are at­tract­ing high pro­file at­ten­tion al­though, for the present, with lit­tle fi­nal agree­ment on how trade and com­merce across the bor­der in Ire­land or across the Uk-ire­land bor­der should be man­aged.

If there is a shared will for a fric­tion­less sys­tem, it is cer­tainly pos­si­ble. Tech­nol­ogy, or spe­cial con­ces­sions, or an agreed treaty pro­to­col could all of­fer eas­ier re­la­tions than restor­ing a for­mal cus­toms fron­tier.

While trad­ing re­la­tions are high pro­file ques­tions, car­ry­ing con­tin­u­ing reg­u­la­tory pub­lic­ity, there are numer­ous other as­pects of Brexit where lo­cal con­se­quences should be­gin to be an­tic­i­pated and where the end agree­ment from the ne­go­ti­a­tions should be an­tic­i­pated.

In this wider range of top­ics the ab­sence of a NI Ex­ec­u­tive means that there is no lo­cal fo­cus for de­bate.

In con­trast, in Scot­land the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is rais­ing its voice to try to se­cure a de­bate where, at least, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is as­sured a place round the ta­ble with the UK Gov­ern­ment be­fore fur­ther de­vo­lu­tion de­ci­sions for the UK are made.

The Scot­tish rep­re­sen­ta­tives have asked Lon­don for par­tic­i­pa­tion in the im­me­di­ate dis­cus­sions on the fu­ture of pol­icy for agri­cul­ture and fish­eries. The Scot­tish start­ing point is that, with agreed bud­get al­lo­ca­tions, farm and fish­eries poli­cies should be de­volved to the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment. To date, the talks be­tween the UK and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ments have not found a shared agree­ment.

From a North­ern Ire­land per­spec­tive there has been lit­tle pub­lic aware­ness of these crit­i­cal is­sues. Of course, farm­ing and fish­ing are sig­nif­i­cant parts of the lo­cal econ­omy.

Would the NI Ex­ec­u­tive wish to al­low the de­ci­sions on pol­icy and fund­ing to be made in Lon­don or are there spe­cific gains to be achieved for a de­gree of lo­cal flex­i­bil­ity and, if so, what de­gree of lo­cal flex­i­bil­ity?

Af­ter 2020 there is no agree­ment on what will re­place, for farm­ing, the Sin­gle Farm Pay­ment for­mula which has re­cently served as a ma­jor large source of funds to all farms. Will the UK Gov­ern­ment agree to main­tain the present scale of farm sup­port? Will the struc­ture of farm sup­port change? Two gen­eral trend an­swers seem likely.

First, the UK Gov­ern­ment may wish to spend less on farm sup­port. Sec­ond, the di­rec­tion of sup­port is likely to be less generic — ev­i­dence of farm devel­op­ment and sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­men­tal im­prove­ments are pos­si­ble cri­te­ria to qual­ify.

Would a NI Ex­ec­u­tive wish, say, to have a farm sup­port bud­get de­ter­mined on prin­ci­ples akin to a Bar­nett for­mula in which the al­lo­ca­tion to in­di­vid­ual farms was set lo­cally and not on a par­ity based sys­tem? The ques­tion raises the fur­ther prospect that even ask­ing this ques­tion may pro­voke po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ment. The pos­si­ble bud­getary im­pli­ca­tions of de­vo­lu­tion for farm­ing and then the dis­tri­bu­tional al­lo­ca­tions are not likely to be eas­ily man­aged. If the Scots win a de­vo­lu­tion pack­age, will NI go along with a Scot­tish prece­dent?

Fish­eries poli­cies pose se­ri­ous de­vo­lu­tion ques­tions. They be­come even more com­plex when tested by the ques­tion of how re­la­tions with the Ir­ish fish­eries sec­tor are to be man­aged.

Is the bor­der, at sea, to be an ad­min­is­tra­tive ne­ces­sity and will this give rise to en­force­ment ques­tions off the lo­cal coast­line. In prac­ti­cal terms, if fish­eries pol­icy was de­volved, would NI wish to reach a re­cip­ro­cal fish­ing agree­ment with the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment? Even less cer­tain: would the EU al­low Ire­land to do a lo­cal deal in Ir­ish coastal wa­ters and would the UK Gov­ern­ment de­volve the NI part to the Ex­ec­u­tive?

The or­gan­i­sa­tion and devel­op­ment of farm­ing and fish­eries will play a crit­i­cal role in a large sec­tor of the NI econ­omy. The easy ad­min­is­tra­tive an­swers would be to be ready to mir­ror the poli­cies and fund­ing of the UK Gov­ern­ment as ap­plied to GB. How­ever, the case for some scope for de­vo­lu­tion­ary dis­cre­tion is strong (as also for Scot­land). That calls for a se­ri­ous prepara­tory de­bate lo­cally and then at a UK level.

Af­ter 2020 the ques­tion of sup­port for farm­ing will need to be ad­dressed

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