Independent review issues ‘red status’ on DAERA’s Brexit preparations

An independent review of DAERA’s Brexit preparations has issued a ‘red status’ warning over the region’s preparedness.

The external review of DAERA’s transition programme was carried out at the end of August and warned “urgent intervention” is required.

Reading exerpts from the review in front of a Stormont committee on Thursday (September 24), DAERA permanent secretary Denis McMahon explained: “[It means] that successful delivery of the programme appears to be unachievable.

Delivery of transition requirements is unachievable through this vehicle. Urgent intervention is required to ensure contingency requirements are mobilised and are adequate to deliver the intended outcome.

Dr. McMahon reminded the committee his own assessment of readiness back in June was “red/amber”.

“This reflected the incredible time pressures associated with the programme, the lack of clarity on key issues relevant to the programme due to the on-going trade negotiations, and the political and operational complexities,” he said.

‘An unmitigated mess’

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer, who chairs the Assembly’s Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA) committee, expressed “serious concern” over the issue.

McAleer said: “At this week’s AERA committee we received a briefing from the permanent secretary, who is also responsible for the department’s transition programme, that it will be a ‘monumental challenge’ to have the North’s ports of entry ready by January 1, and not everything will be in place for 2021.

In June, we received a report from the department that the progress status was red/amber but the issue has now become more acute and this will cause major concern for local businesses who will be the unfortunate collateral damage of this process.

“The scale of this is huge, and chief vet Robert Huey explained that of the 200 loads of foodstuff entering the North each day for local supermarkets, each lorry could have up to 400 separate products that need individually certified.

“This will create massive pressure on local businesses, the ports, ferries and the haulage industry.

“The cost of getting our ports ready will be in the region of £40 million and work is underway in terms of sourcing land, buildings and planning but according to the senior officials, there are physical constraints on some of the sites.

I believe that there is a clear lack of leadership in the department, whereby the minister has stated his opposition to port plans moving ahead, effectively handing over responsibility to the senior responsible officer and his team who are working under the most intense pressure to meet legal requirements and deliver a Minimal Viable Product.

“This is an unmitigated mess brought about by a Brexit decision we did not consent to, made worse by an Internal Market Bill that the Assembly has rejected and a minister who is not giving leadership to his senior officials at such a critical time.”