HOCS should reflect on Brexit comments: Wilson

06 March 2019

DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has urged David Sterling, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, to reflect on comments he made in a letter to Party leaders about our exit from the EU.  An NIO Minister has told the House of Commons that the letter was ‘political charged’.

Sammy Wilson MP

DUP Parliamentary Spokesman on Education, Treasury and the Department of Work & Pensions.

Sammy Wilson

Commenting Mr Wilson said,

“The Northern Ireland Civil Service should be politically neutral.  The Head of the Service should lead by example. This letter irreparably damages Mr Sterling’s neutrality but more worryingly, it taints the entire edifice by undermining the neutrality of the Service.

I agree with NIO Minister John Penrose in that this was a “politically charged” letter. For a Civil Servant to publish such a letter, is an error in judgement. It was a political act. Mr Sterling would do well to reflect on his actions.

The timing of the letter, coming a week before a key vote in the House of Commons, is significant.  After all, the letter is a regurgitation of many points he made previously.

Whilst neutrality is a concern, so too is a lack of action.  Despite recognising previously there was a lack of public information in Northern Ireland regarding citizen rights and the common travel area after the UK leaves the EU, I detect nothing in terms of action to address this. Having known about the problem, why has Mr Sterling not listed a series of steps he has taken to address this lack of information?

The comparison between the Republic of Ireland civil service and Northern Ireland Civil Service is very notable.  Whilst the Republic of Ireland has the same challenge of uncertainty, it has implemented a higher profile public information campaign than their Northern Ireland counterparts. These campaigns have involved meetings, advertising, advice lines for a wide range of sectors.

Rather than attempting to add to political commentaries, Mr Sterling would be better doing his job of ensuring the Northern Ireland Civil Service is ready to deliver an orderly exit, regardless of the circumstances.

Mr Sterling would do well to base his statements on fact.  References to ‘could happen’ and ‘might happen’ would be more acceptable if the both sides of the possible outcomes were outlined.  Whilst there is a focus on north-south challenges, Mr Sterling has categorically failed to outline the east-west challenges of a border in the Irish Sea.”

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