As Brexit deadline approaches, Arlene Foster’s position is totally confused

Posted By: May 13, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday,  May 13, 2020
Brexit hasn’t gone away you know, though some people – strangely Brexiteers – think the Covid-19 pandemic has made it vanish.
The chair of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is one. OK, so you’ve never heard of him and he knows nothing about Ireland, but he thinks Johnson’s victory in December’s election means “the politicking on Brexit has disappeared”, so there can be stability in the north. Really?
Another is Arlene Foster who has an even more confused position. On Sunday she told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that talking about extending the transition period beyond December 31 was a ‘distraction’. Yet in the same breath she implied there was no need for an extension because businesses in The North need ‘clarity’. They need “to get started”. Piffle. That’s just what they can’t do because Arlene’s abject government of chancers and bluffers is stalling negotiations, most recently on Monday when the British again refused to proceed with all major topics in parallel. The British want to cherry pick their favourite topics like keeping access to the EU’s gas and electricity market, aviation and nuclear energy, but leave matters they consider unimportant for later. The EU requires an all-encompassing agreement on trade including goods and services. They are fed up with British stalling.
If Arlene Foster really wants ‘clarity’ for business here she needs to start by urging her government, which she never misses an opportunity to suck up to, to state how they’re going to manage incoming trade from Britain. Where, when and how are they going to examine goods and animals? When are they going to build customs sheds at Larne and Warrenpoint, or will it be Cairnryan and Liverpool? What happens VAT on fish caught in UK waters and landed at Portavogie? Who’s going to inspect what’s coming in on behalf of the EU? Will it be Irish Revenue Commissioners who are most convenient to these sites? There is no evidence that the British have moved on any of these matters: quite the contrary.
As a result, businesses here haven’t a clue about how much paperwork will be required, when, why or where. Time is running out to prepare what is required. EU sources tell the Financial Times that Brussels is reconciled to the UK leaving in December without a deal because ministers have repeatedly said they will not ask for an extension and that leaves no time for a deal. If they aren’t going to make a request and therefore crash out without a deal, why bother making preparations here? The need for an extension is shared by the Scottish government and by a number of retired senior civil servants including Lord O’Donnell and Lord Kerslake, former heads of the civil service, and by opinion polls showing 64 per cent of the British public and even 45 per cent of Brexit voters favor an extension.
Why does no one ask Arlene Foster why she opposes it? One thing we know for certain after the last three years is that she doesn’t know better than those advocating an extension. The last chance for Britain requesting an extension is the end of June. Perhaps they can’t manage coronavirus and Brexit simultaneously?
Here’s the rub. Whether there’s an extension or not, a deal or not, rules on customs, excise and VAT will be different after December 31. Is it confusion or worse that drives Foster to talk about ‘clarity’ but prevents her demanding to know when her government intends to begin creating infrastructure here, physical as well as bureaucratic?
An office to accommodate those supervising inspections would be a start, but she refuses to support other parties here asking for one. What’s her alternative? How can she say talking about the question of transition is a distraction when the businesses she’s supposed to be supporting desperately need to know what requirements they will face following an end to lockdown and a new trade regime, deal or no deal?