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Council / No deal Brexit warning from councillor

Councillor Alastair Cooper.
Development Committee Chair Alastair Cooper says new councillors "need to be prepared to play a long game" to achieve their goals.

A COUNCILLOR has warned that the local authority has a “duty to prepare the Shetland community for a no deal Brexit” in the coming weeks and months.

North Mainland member Alastair Cooper told a meeting of the full council on Wednesday that “ignorance is no defence, so we have to do something to defend ourself” if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal.

The matter was raised after a report on the council’s corporate risk register reiterated there remained uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on Shetland, with areas like withdrawal of funding, legislative change and economic impact concerning officers.

The Brexit transition period is due to begin at the end of March, but the details of the UK’s exit from the EU is still unclear as an agreed deal struck by prime minister Theresa May is likely to be voted against by MPs in January.

The UK Government has started to increase its planning for a withdrawal deal not being agreed with the EU, which most believe would be the worst case scenario.

Lerwick North councillor Stephen Leask said it was time the council’s Brexit sounding board, which was formed after the EU referendum vote in 2016 to ensure the isles’ interests are recognised, was “ramped up”.

Cooper – who is chairman of the council’s development committee – said he was concerned that the UK Government had started delving further into what a no deal scenario would look like.

“We are at the point where we [the council] need to be doing something,” he said.

Director of corporate services Christine Ferguson said the potential impact of Brexit continues to be looked at, while council lawyer Jan Riise added that the government is preparing planning assumptions which councils could use when developing contingencies.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison said one of his main concerns was for Shetland’s key industries, while SNP man Robbie McGregor said the “whole thing has been a shambles for the last two years”.

South end councillor Allison Duncan, who works as a crofter, also sounded concern over how farm subsidies could look in the coming years.

Leask echoed worries over Shetland’s industries and said that thoughts should be headed towards putting “plans in place for the public sector and also the private sector” on the impact of Brexit.