Brexit 'exacerbates' NI divisions, says House of Lords

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

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image captionThe Lords report points to Brexit as one of the reasons for the Northern Ireland Executive's collapse

The Brexit debate appears to have "exacerbated cross-community divisions" in Northern Ireland, a House of Lords report has said.

The Lords EU Committee has been examining the impact of Brexit on the UK's devolved institutions.

It said Northern Ireland will be "profoundly affected" because of its distinctive circumstances.

Statistical analysis suggests about 65% of unionists backed Brexit while almost 90% of nationalists voted remain.

The committee said it appeared that the disagreements over Brexit had contributed to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Sinn Féin favours a "special status" for Northern Ireland that would keep it in the EU, a policy rejected by unionists.

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image captionThe EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier visited the Irish border in May before Brexit talks began

Committee member, Lord Kinnoull, told BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme that "not a day goes by that every member of the committee doesn't wake up and hope to be hearing better news from Northern Ireland about the institutions".

'Temporarily out of order'

He added that in the absence of power-sharing at Stormont, Northern Ireland still needed to be given a voice in the Brexit negotiations.

"What is important is that a series of bilateral discussions continues so that there is a dialogue - it's important work," said Lord Kinnoull.

"The key message of our report is that every part of the UK needs to work constructively together to get the best from Brexit.

"Even if some institutions are temporarily out of order, those that would make them up need to be part of that process as well."

The committee acknowledged that the use of the phrase "special status" in respect of Brexit is politically contentious for unionists who do not want Northern Ireland's place in the UK to be undermined.

However, it added that "the specific circumstances in Northern Ireland" - geographical, historical, and political - "give rise to unique issues that will need to be addressed during the Brexit negotiations".

'Acute concern'

It called on the UK government to identity and outline "flexible and imaginative solutions" to the issue of the Irish border as a matter of priority.

Lord Kinnoull said the committee welcomed the EU's approach to resolving the question of the Irish border.

"We've had direct and fresh news from Brussels, who are determined to ensure we have no hard border," he said.

"The most senior aides to Michel Barnier (the EU's chief negotiator) are being asked to deal specifically with the complex issue of the island of Ireland - that underlines the determination of all parties concerned to get to a fair and reasonable conclusion."

The report also referred to "acute concern" that the devolved jurisdictions will lose out if needs-based EU funding is replaced by UK subsidies granted in accordance with the population-based Barnett Formula.

A previous report from the committee recommended that Northern Ireland should have continued access to EU funding for cross-Irish-border projects.

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