The recent public demonstrations across Northern reflect growing frustration at the lack of government here. The biggest current threat in this political vacuum is Brexit but a return of devolved government won’t fix that problem – for two reasons.
There isn’t sufficient time for meaningful input, given the deadlines involved, and in any case the major parties don’t agree on Brexit.
Against that backdrop you might imagine civic leadership in the North would step into the gap but throughout the phase from referendum to now that voice has been alarmingly subdued. There are real measurable and practical threats to businesses and communities and while there have been contributions from the civic, business, local government and third sector they have not been consistent with the increasing threat level.
To reach for just two examples. The recent papers published by the government highlight that businesses doing cross border trade under a no deal scenario will have to pay VAT upfront on goods entering a jurisdiction. That will cripple some businesses. It’s not that the lorries will be stuck on the border. That costly upfront rate will mean they will not leave the yard.
The other is on the impact of lengthy delays at Dover on imported perishable goods destined for here. You can rightly ask what condition might they be in by the time they arrive – if they arrive at all. And will shortages lead to cross border panic buying to compensate? What about medicines?
So where to turn to for advice and information? Where are the practical sectoral plans for the North from a government that speaks of a potential no deal scenario. One might have expected a specific version of the Raab no deal papers with a focus on Northern Ireland. But the Secretary of State’s – for Northern Ireland – voice doesn’t match the threat level either and doesn’t reflect a drilled down response to border specific issues.
So who speaks? And by the time it gets for businesses to ask the Irish Government, as the UK papers suggested, won’t that be all too late?