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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Stormont

    That's all from the assembly for today.

    We'll be back at 09:30 in the morning with live coverage of the weekly meeting of the Health Committee.

    They'll be hearing from representatives of the NI Ambulance Service.

    Do join us in the assembly senate chamber and in the meantime have a great evening.

  2. Executive's International Relations

    Colin McGrath thanks the witnesses.

    The next item of business is a briefing paper on the Executive’s International Relations and comparisons with Scotland and Wales.

    It’s been provided to MLAs by the assembly’s research wing RaISe.

    The office is made up of a number of subject specialists and library professionals who provide research and information support.

    You’ll find a breakdown of some of the information they provide in this blog.

  3. NI business leaders 'positive but guarded' on deal

    shopping

    Northern Ireland's business leaders have given a guarded welcome to news of a "grace period" to ensure food supplies from GB to NI do not face disruption from 1 January.

    Aodhán Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium said the agreement - the NI Protocol - was "very welcome".

    Tesco chairman John Allan called it an "important step in the right direction".

    The grace period is part of the agreement between the UK and EU.

    Read more on this story here.

  4. 'Perfidious Albion again'

    Martina Anderson

    Martina Anderson of Sinn Féin says she won't ask Dominic McCullough to agree with her but "it sounds like Perfidious Albion again".

    She says that throughout the referendum campaign there were promises that the government would replace EU funding.

    She asks if everyone, and she mentions farmers, will be trying to get their funding "from that meagre pot" of £220m.

    "The farming is sitting outside the Shared Prosperity funding," says Mr McCullough from the Department of Finance.

    Laura McDonald, also from the Finance Department, says there is £330m to replace the single-farm payment.

  5. 'They feel they have met their legal commitments'

    “There has been slippage in the development of the Peace Plus programme” begins Pat Sheehan.

    The West Belfast MLA asks if “it’s the result of the British government not confirming that they are going to ensure their commitment from the Withdrawal Agreement” around the retention of EU funding.

    Dominic McCullough from the Department of Finance says “it comes down to interpretation and how you interpret the Withdrawal Agreement”.

    “It’s our understanding that they feel they have met their legal commitments,” adds the official.

    He adds that the British government is confirming its position and will confirm it when it can.

    Pat Sheehan

    Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin asks if the officials have a rough idea of when there will b more clarity.

    Mr McCullough says “we will push for a decision for as soon as we possibly can”.

    What if there is “further slippage”? Could it jeopardise any current funding?

    “I don’t think that would be the case,” responds Mr McCullough.

  6. Peace Plus timeline 'has slipped'

    Doug Beattie

    The committee's deputy chair, Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie, wants to know if the SEUPB's "key milestones" on Peace Plus funding are "on track".

    The SEUPB implements EU funding schemes in Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland.

    Dominic McCullough confirms that the Peace Plus timetable "has slipped" because officials have been unable to confirm the programme's budget.

    He says they are pressing the Northern Ireland Office for confirmation of the budget.

    The official adds that the hope is to have the scheme up and running by the end of next summer.

  7. 'Significantly less than we were expecting'

    Colin McGrath

    Two things “struck” Committee Chair Colin McGrath in the briefing papers sent to members.

    He says he believes there’s going to be “a valley or a gap” between funding that will “ebb off” and the uncertainty where the Shared Prosperity Fund will “pick up”.

    The SDLP MLA says community groups and councils will be questioning where the funding will come from.

    Dominic McCullough says the Department of Finance has been pressing Whitehall for “clarity about their intentions for shared prosperity for both in quantum and delivery”.

    Laura McDonald

    Laura McDonald, also from the Finance Department, says the Chancellor announced that there is a possibility that “the tails issue could be applied to the structural funds”.

    Ms McDonald adds that this is something that department has “repeatedly objected to” in relation to the shared prosperity fund.

    A shared prosperity fund pilot will be launched in January, says the official, “it’s worth is £220m across the whole of the UK which is significantly less than we were expecting”.

  8. 'NI received 3.6bn euros from EU between 2014-2020'

    Dominic McCullough

    Lorraine Lynas from the Executive Office was due to deliver a brief by video link but there is a technical fault.

    There's been a lot of that today - maybe it's the damp weather.

    Dominic McCullough from the Department of Finance picks up the reins.

    He begins the presentation by explaining the role of the Future Policy and Finance workstream, led by the Department of Finance.

    Its work includes advising Whitehall on "successor funding" to replace what previously came from the EU.

    The unit also deals with Peace Plus funding.

    He notes that between 2014-2020 Northern Ireland received 3.6bn euros from the EU, mostly from the Common Agricultural Policy.

  9. EU funding programmes

    NI Assembly

    After a short comfort break, members resume their meeting and turn to the next item of business.

    It’s a briefing by Executive Office and Finance Department officials on current and future EU funding programmes.

    Those joining the MLAs are:

    • Dominic McCullough, DoF
    • Laura McDonald, DoF
    • Lorraine Lynas, TEO
  10. Reform the role of British-Irish Council?

    Lord Caine jumps in for one more quick question.

    He asks about the British-Irish Council (BIC) and how it could be involved in the common frameworks process.

    “The BIC can have a role, but it’s format would have to change quite considerably,” says the peer.

    He wants to know what DUP MLA Christopher Stalford’s views are.

    “It would need fundamental reform of its role,” agreed Mr Stalford.

    That concludes the MLAs brief to the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee.

  11. 'Frameworks could be an area for the British-Irish Council'

    Baroness Randerson

    Baroness Randerson has the next question.

    She asks if the members have engaged with the equivalent committees in Westminster, Scotland and Wales.

    "Has there been any joint working?" she asks.

    Colin McGrath says that the agriculture, health and infrastructure committees, which are dealing with the four frameworks that have so far landed in Stormont, "may well have had interactions with committees from other jurisdictions".

    The SDLP MLA says the TEO committee has yet been asked to consider any of the frameworks.

    The DUP's Christopher Stalford says the common frameworks "could be an area for the British-Irish Council to consider".

  12. 'EU law the floor not the ceiling'

    “NI is most affected by the common frameworks” says Baroness Christine Crawley.

    “In the future, once they’re implemented, our committee are very keen that we continue that scrutiny” of the frameworks, and she wants to know the Executive Committee’s view of that future scrutiny.

    Colin McGrath says it’s “incredibly important” that scrutiny continues into how the frameworks impact people’s lives.

    The SDLP says it’s important for people to have access to their political representatives to raise concerns.

    Christine Crawley

    DUP MLA Christopher Stalford says the “level of awareness that’s out there about these areas is limited”, adding that the frameworks will impact on people’s everyday lives.

    He says this will be a reason why the devolved institutions and Westminster will “pull together” to oversee the implementation of the common frameworks and the governance of those particular policy areas”.

    Martina Anderson says “EU law, I’ve always regarded as the floor not the ceiling”.

    The Sinn Féin MLA and former MEP says she hopes the protocol will not “dilute” any of the “protections we have in place”.

  13. 'Engagement with stakeholders'

    Paul Murphy

    Former NI Secretary of State Lord Paul Murphy asks about the engagement of stakeholders in the preparation of the frameworks.

    Colin McGrath of the SDLP says "the engagement with stakeholders has been very, very limited" through the assembly committees.

    Martina Anderson of Sinn Féin says the committee had a stakeholders engagement with the local councils last week and the week before.

    "Not one of the councils mentioned the common framework," she says.

  14. 'Potential that divergence could equal division'

    Next up is a familiar face - Baroness Margaret Ritchie.

    The former SDLP leader asks members “what impact do you think the NI protocol could have on NI’s participation in the common frameworks programme in the future?”

    On Tuesday the protocol was "approved in principle" between the UK and EU.

    Margaret Ritchie

    “There is the potential that divergence could equal division whenever it comes to the NI assembly and executive,” responds Colin McGrath.

    The SDLP MLA says “there will be that push and pull”, adding “there is concern that there will be some sort of democratic deficit”.

    “We really are going to be caught in between, and the difficulty is going to be a period of confusion,” says the Executive Committee chair.

    Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson jumps in. “It’s nice to see you,” she says to Margaret Ritchie.

    The Foyle MLA says her concern with the process “is that this has been done under the auspice of the UK approach”.

    She adds that civil servants that "did excellent work” during the collapse of devolution.

  15. 'Lack of executive put us on the back foot'

    Lord Caine

    Lord Caine has the next question: "How engaged do you think the NI Executive has been with the common frameworks programme?"

    He's concerned that Northern Ireland was left out during the process due to a lack of devolved government.

    Deputy Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office Doug Beattie says Lord Caine makes "a very good point" as the lack of government for such a long time "really has put us on the back foot".

    The UUP MLA says he thinks there's been "a real attempt to catch up on that deficit".

  16. 'Competing opinions in Executive Office'

    Baroness Kay Andrews starts the questions session.

    What role has the NI assembly played so far in scrutinising the common frameworks, she asks Mr McGrath.

    Colin McGrath responds jokingly, only “the police or my mother refer to me as Mr McGrath at times of trouble”.

    The SDLP MLA says “our committee as an Executive Office Committee is to scrutinise the role of the executive office and in that office there are competing opinions” about Brexit.

    Turning to common frameworks, “thus far only four have had to be presented to the assembly” says the South Down MLA.

    Baroness Kay Andrews

    Each of these has been delivered to difference departments, which are headed by politicians from different parties, he says.

    “Here, the views that people have and the perspectives people have, have been impacting how an official position is gotten to,” says Mr McGrath.

  17. Committee for the Executive Office

    Colin McGrath

    Committee Chair Colin McGrath of the SDLP opens the session.

    The members run through a number of items of committee business.

    Then it's on to the main focus of the afternoon.

    There's a bit of a role reversal here.

    Usually the Committee hears briefings from witnesses.

    Today, the committee members are being asked questions by the House of Lords Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee.

    You can see a list of the 13 members of the Lords' committee by clicking here.

  18. Tesco stockpiles food in case of no-deal Brexit

    shopping trolley

    This afternoon's briefing will be dominated by the latest Brexit related developments.

    During the assembly's lunch break, Britain's biggest supermarket Tesco announced that it is stockpiling food ahead of a potential no-deal Brexit.

    Leaving the bloc without an agreement could mean shoppers face shortages and a 3-5% rise in prices in January, chairman John Allan warned.

    He told the Bloomberg news agency Tesco was stockpiling non-fresh food as it prepares for "the worst-case scenario".

    It comes as the Prime Minister is due to hold last-ditch talks about a deal with the European Commission President later this evening.

    Time is running out to reach a deal before 31 December, when the UK stops following EU trading rules.