Northern Ireland 30th May 2017

NI Open Government Network Blog – Brexit: What’s our role?

by Connor McLean

Written by Colm Burns, NI Open Government Network Chair

Scotland and Wales have clearly set out their position on how they see their roles during the period before and after the U.K. leaves the EU.

On the day the Great Repeal white paper[1] was published, both the Scottish government[2] and the Welsh Government[3] released strongly worked statements on their respective positions on Brexit. But in Northern Ireland there has been no formal response to the white paper, other than the Executive Office letter[4] sent Prime Minister, Theresa May on 10th August.

Since the UK Government published the White Paper, both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have produced more statements and documents detailing their positions; and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have held committee meetings and produced reports. We in Northern Ireland have just watched.  Yet while I was at a meeting with other Civil Society organisations from the four jurisdictions, I was struck by how much Northern Ireland dominated the conversation and how the roll of the devolved institutions, although formally to be agreed, will be key to the success or failure of Brexit.

Since the meeting all I can think about (other than my daughter’s sports day) is if our Executive isn’t going to take the lead in representing us then who will?

I am in awe of the work carried out by the Centre for Cross Border studies, intimated by the veracity of organisation like CAJ and the Human Rights Consortium that are driving forward the conversation on the protection of rights.  The Children’s Law Centre is asking the tough questions about what Brexit means for children’s rights; Friends of the Earth are emphasising our environmental responsibilities; whilst Co3 and NICVA are working on protecting the voluntary and community sector from a ‘Hard Brexit’. If you talk to the CBI they will highlight the need for investment in infrastructure, energy and delivering a pro-enterprise tax environment; and the Federation of Small Business are calling for a pro-business Brexit.

But Brexit is much bigger than any of this, because it will dramatically affect the lives of all citizens.

It’s for this reason that I want to know what citizens want. I want to know how they can be involved in shaping what our leaving the EU will look like.  And I want to know what the real impact of Brexit will be.

After we leave the EU, will we treat EU and non-EU migrants the same? Will Brexit mark the end of restrictions on maximum working hours?  Will there be Border checkpoints in Northern Ireland?  Will there be free trade with the rest of Europe? Would no deal be better than a bad deal? Now we’ve decided to take back control, who will really be in charge?

Citizens, like organisations, want different things from the Brexit process. Some want another referendum, others want just it all to be over and for the UK to leave the EU as soon as possible.  I have my own views on what Brexit should be, but this isn’t the place for them.  What I want is the process to be open, accountable and transparent – so that citizens are informed not frightened.  I want citizens to have a voice that is heard no matter what their position may be; and I want their opinions to be taken on board.

Over the coming weeks and months I hope to explore this more and look at what we as an Open Government Network can do to help achieve this.  In the meantime check out the excellent work being done by great organisations and get involved in the conversations.


[1] Great Repeal Bill white paper (30 March 2017)

[2] Scottish government statement (30 March 2017)

[3] Welsh government statement (30 March 2017)

[4] Northern Ireland executive letter (10 August 2016)