NI Agriculture Committee ‘asked to rubber-stamp’ Brexit legislation without scrutiny

The Northern Ireland Assembly is being asked to “rubber-stamp” legislation relating to agricultural issues after Brexit without even having access to several of the documents to offer proper scrutiny, an MLA has warned.

Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone, who is a member of the Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, explained that in some cases members had only been given access to “a title on a page” with no detail of its content or its implications.

Members of the committee were then expected to give their consent to the legislation being made law.

AgriLand understands that this week alone the committee received only a title page for three pieces of legislation. Members were then expected to give consent based only on an oral briefing provided by Defra.

In the coming weeks, the committee will be expected to review a total of 56 separate SIs relating to its remit of agriculture, fisheries and the environment after Brexit.

‘An unacceptable abuse of democracy’

“The Assembly is currently being asked to approve secondary legislation relating to Brexit from Westminster in the form of Statutory Instruments (SIs),” McGlone said.

“These SIs are supposed to receive proper scrutiny through the Assembly committees as part of the democratic process.

A large number of the SIs currently being processed are little more than a title on a page with no detail of their content or their implications.

“There is usually less than a week between the committee receiving the title of the SI and the date at which it is due to become law and, on occasion, that is due to happen on the same day as the committee receives notice.

“The rush to get the Assembly to rubber-stamp all the SIs required by Westminster for Brexit without proper scrutiny is a cause for concern.

“The British Government ignored our call for an extension to the transition period and they are now trying to bounce the Assembly into approving unscrutinised legislation to meet their deadline.

It is an unacceptable abuse of democracy and it cannot be allowed to continue without protest.

Risks

Committee chairman Declan McAleer confirmed that in many cases just a title page had been received.

He told AgriLand: “It’s extremely frustrating because we feel that our role as a scrutiny committee is being undermined.

“This is not a criticism of DAERA but rather of Defra, as officials are working at pace to implement the legislation.

“Many of the SIs contain largely technical information but there would be reputational damage for us if we were to miss something that would be important to farmers down the line.”