Foreign Affairs Committee warned of danger to Northern Ireland of no-deal Brexit

The Foreign Affairs Committee has been warned of the danger to Northern Ireland of a no-deal Brexit, including the potential for further violence.

The Westminster Foreign Affairs Committee travelled to the region for a one-day visit on Thursday, where they heard concerns about the ramifications of the UK leaving the EU.

Three members of the committee met 17 local organisations including community campaigners, business and local representatives at the Armagh City Hotel.

Peter Bunting
Trade union leader Peter Bunting spoke to the media as members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee visited Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

The three committee members were chairman Tom Tugendhat (Conservative), Stephen Gethins (SNP) and Catherine West (Labour).

Peter Bunting of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was among those who met them and warned of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.

He also expressed concern that the three committee members were all pro-Remain, saying Brexiteers needed to hear their message.

“My concerns are if we leave (the EU) with no deal, there is no thought being put in to what happens for the citizens of Northern Ireland, nor indeed for the citizens of the Republic,” he said.

“The interesting point that the committee were at pains to say was that in a foreign relations view, their best friend and their closest neighbour was the Republic of Ireland.

“I just wonder, do the rest of the parliamentarians in Westminster realise that, because they seem to be quite ignorant of any facts or any impacts negatively that Brexit is going to have in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Bunting also warned that Brexit could lead to further violence in Northern Ireland.

“Brexit without a deal will hit our economy very hard in Northern Ireland, and from there it will act as a recruiting sergeant for those engaged in violence and those who wish to engage in more violence in Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Fein Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady welcomed the visit, claiming that when he attends Westminster he finds a “lack of interest” and “in some cases the ignorance of the situation in the North (of Ireland”.

He said the constituency includes a large number of small farms, and in 2018 more than £25m came from the EU to farmers in the area.

“That’s a huge figure, one of the questions I asked the committee was, do they honestly think that any British Government from whatever party would replicate that amount of money,” he said.

“In this constituency we have a lot of small farmers, hill farmers who will go to the wall if any sort of Brexit is introduced which takes away their income.”

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty described the committee’s visit as positive, but said it was “sad” that just three members attended.

“The sad reality is that British MPs are playing to their own audience, and they have no concerns about the impact of Brexit over here, that’s what the real fear is here,” he said.

“That’s why it’s so important that some of them hear our voices and that we continue to fight strongly for our communities locally.”

Mr Tugendhat defended the small turn-out of committee members.

“There are various reasons for that, sadly only one of the five Labour members and only one Conservative member could make it because of various local issues that have been going on in Westminster, that I am sure people have been aware of,” he said.

“But the point of the committee is that we then go back and share amongst ourselves, and then share with the House, so although you may only see three people here, we will be talking to the rest of the committee when we get back, and then talking to other members of Parliament as well.”

He added of the Armagh event: “It’s been hugely informative, quite a lot of the issues we were aware of, but having them explained personally by people for example from the Irish Trade Unions Congress or cross community organisations like Co-operation Ireland, was hugely useful.”

Later the MPs met members of the public in Belfast during an event at Queen’s University.

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