Government hiring ‘permanent’ high-paid civil servants to handle Northern Ireland Protocol

The government has issued job adverts for four senior civil servants to oversee the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol – saying that the posts are “permanent”.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 13th August 2021, 5:22 pm
A lorry arrives at Larne port, where feelings in the town are running high against the NI Protocol

The move prompted a renewed call last night from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson for the Protocol to be scrapped, adding that to do otherwise runs the risk of fresh instability in the Province.

The four jobs are all within something called the Northern Ireland Directorate, and have no fixed location, indicating that the successful applicants could be posted anywhere in the UK.

The Directorate appears to be a wing of The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which is in essence the Great British version of Northern Ireland’s own Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

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The jobs command salaries ranging between £51,000 to £71,000, and say: “Contract type: Permanent”.

It was put to both the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and DEFRA that hiring such people is a sign that the Protocol is here to stay.

In July, the government had issued a White Paper (a concise analysis of how a particular policy is working) which admitted there were “significant – and deepening – issues with the operation of the Protocol in its current form”.

The paper said the government should ideally draw up some “new and durable arrangements agreed by the UK and the EU together”.

Then just last week, Sir Jeffrey gave an interview to The Sunday Times in which he voiced hope that the Tory government now “gets it”.

He said it is his belief the government is now prepared to activate Article 16, basically suspending the Protocol.

‘SIGNIFICANT CONSEQUENCES’

Asked about the fact the government is now hiring permanent, high-paid civil servants to handle Protocol matters, he said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol has been imposed on Northern Ireland without consent and its implementation here has been driven forward by the UK government through their own department – DEFRA.

“The White Paper published by Her Majesty’s Government was a step forward, but needs to be backed up by concrete action.

“They also need to state clearly how the aims set out in that paper require the appointment of four project managers.

“The job responsibilities state those successful will be applicants that ‘enjoy the challenge of conflicting priorities’ [further details below].

“There must be no conflicting priorities from the government on this issue.

“The Irish Sea border must be removed and Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom single market fully respected.

“Failure to do this will have significant consequences for political and economic stability here.”

The NIO issued a statement saying: “We are seeking to agree significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU, not to scrap it.

“Accordingly, it is important we employ talented people to ensure it delivers on its core objectives – minimising disruption to everyday lives and safeguarding the (Belfast) Good Friday Agreement.”

SO... WHAT WILL THESE PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO?

The job description runs to nearly 400 words, and is written in hard-to-penetrate management-speak.

But what is clear is that the roles are senior and supervisory, falling into Grade 6 (two tiers below the very top of the Civil Service structure).

The job ad describes the Northern Ireland Directorate as existing to “provide a single point of contact for all DEFRA Northern Ireland Protocol related issues”, for the Northern Ireland Executive, London-based departments, and businesses alike.

The Directorate (which was formed in January) “consolidates DEFRA’s policy, strategy and delivery requirements across the Protocol into one team,” it says.

It is specifically in charge of overseeing the food and farming-related requirements agreed between the UK government and the EU.

This includes having “oversight of the programme or project management teams” and “project planning across all aspects of the policy and strategy”.

The new hires are expected to “build and own relationships” with everyone up to and including government ministers.

The “responsibilities” section of the job ad says the successful recruit should be a “competent, flexible and proactive self-starter that enjoys the challenge of conflicting priorities”.

It also somewhat bizarrely insists: “You will enjoy combining your skills and disciplines with new and creative approaches.”

Applications close at 11:55 pm on Sunday, August 22.

The ad also says they would particularly welcome “BAME people” (black, Asian and minority ethnic), as well as “people with gender diverse identities”.

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