Beattie Questions relevance of East-West Council

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Beattie Questions relevance of East-West Council

Ulster Unionist Party leader, Doug Beattie MC MLA, has queried the benefits of the newly formed East-West Council, which met for the first time today.

Speaking this evening, he commented.

"The meeting of the new East-West Council really is an exercise in rebranding of what we already have available to us with the ‘UK Intergovernmental Relations (IGR)’ structures. This UK governance mechanism, restructured in January 2022, creates a 3-tier system of engagement between all devolved nations. The main Ministerial responsibility for the IGR lies with Michael Gove.

"The role of the IGR is to maintain positive and constructive relations between the four nations of the UK. Building and maintaining trust and effective communications. Sharing information, promoting accountability, and resolving disputes. In simplistic terms, it allows all nations to build deeper relationships, better understanding of each other’s concerns and emerging issues as well as developing best practice. What is so different from this and the East-West Council?

"Although the top tier has only met once since January 2022, chaired by the Prime Minister, all devolved nations were present, less Northern Ireland who were absent due to the DUP Boycott. The middle tier of the IGR met 5 times since March 2022, the most recent meeting being October 2023 with the bottom tier also meeting 5 times since March 2022 the last being September 2023.

"The IGR has discussed a variety of issues. This has included the cost-of-living crisis, international development, dispute resolution mechanisms, application of the Sewell Convention and even the ban on XL Bully dogs. It has covered trade, education, the environment, and energy security. It has also discussed justice, transport, UK-EU relations, housing, and elections, creating an expansive set of issues affecting the whole of the UK.

"So, what will be different with the East-West Council? Does it actually set Northern Ireland apart, yet again, instead of embedding ourselves in the UK-wide structures already in place? It is time for unionists to realise that being part of the union is about engaging with its structures as an equal member, like Wales, Scotland, and England. Every time we go down a different route, and create special circumstances, we set ourselves apart from the other UK nations. That is not unionism, that is isolationism."