Concern over cross-border sport plan

Lord Empey
Lord Empey

Former UUP leader Reg Empey has voiced bewilderment over the addition of sport to a list of possible cross-border co-operation areas.

He was speaking after TUV leader Jim Allister raised concerns that the draft Brexit withdrawal deal could increase the types of things that are subject to all-island co-ordination.

The Good Friday Agreement already says agriculture, tourism, waterways and more can be co-ordinated in a cross-border fashion by the North/South Ministerial Council, but Mr Allister said the wording of the draft Brexit agreement adds others too like energy, higher education, and sport.

Lord Empey said whilst things like energy have increasingly become cross-border in nature anyway and are not too concerning, “sport is involved and I don’t quite understand why is it’s there – it’s peculiar”.

He said: “Ok, some sports are done on an all-island basis. We understand that, and everybody’s comfortable about that.

“But I don’t see what that’s got to do with the EU and the single market.

“I don’t quite understand what it’s doing there. I don’t pretend to understand what it means.

“I just think the query needs to be asked.”

However, he said it is just one odd aspect of a bigger and more problematic plan.

He said the idea of a Brexit ‘backstop’ – the default fallback position which will kick in once Northern Ireland leaves the EU – has a “major flaw running through it”.

What is the backstop? See explanation and links to original government documents here

Some unionists have voiced fears that what this will mean is that if the UK crashes out of the EU without any proper agreements in place, then Northern Ireland will end up being kept under the umbrella of EU rules.

MEP: we must not let Brexit be a betrayal like Anglo-Irish Agreement

Ultimately, Lord Empey said this “creates a disincentive” for the Republic of Ireland to help set up a post-Brexit system of trade or travel because, if talks fail, Dublin will automatically get its preferred scenario anyway.

Lord Empey said: “I think it’s sort of a typical naive London approach to Dublin, in that they fail to understand the emotional and the political ramifications of what we’re talking about.”