Brexit: No deal would be disastrous for NI, business leaders tell parties

Northern Ireland's business leaders have warned the UK leaving the EU without a deal would be 'disastrous' for the Province.

Monday, 26th November 2018, 7:25 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 5:09 pm
DUP Leader Arlene Foster during her meeting with business leaders at Stormont

A delegation including representatives from retail, hospitality and manufacturing bodies met pro-Remain parties Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party in a joint meeting at Stormont.

They later met DUP leader Arlene Foster and MEP Diane Dodds.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party said it has an ongoing series of engagements with business leaders this week.

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Northern Ireland voted for the UK to remain as part of the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party claim to be the voice of the majority in Northern Ireland.

The DUP backed the Leave campaign and have opposed Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement.

A comment by DUP MP Sammy Wilson last week accusing businesses who back the withdrawal deal as being “the puppets of the Northern Ireland Office” had the potential to sour relations but Angela McGowan, of CBI NI, insisted it had been put behind them.

“We haven’t taken that comment too seriously so I think we’ll all just try to put that to bed and move forward,” she said.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said it is a “Rubicon moment for Northern Ireland”.

“This meeting was an excellent chance for us to air our concerns on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement and explain in detail why the needs of Northern Ireland cannot be met by a disastrous no-deal Brexit,” he said.

“With higher costs and half the discretionary income of GB households, we cannot afford to absorb the catastrophic cost rises that a cliff-edge no-deal would bring.

“We need Northern Ireland politicians to use their influence to bring pressure to bear in Westminster.

“This is a Rubicon moment for Northern Ireland and we need the best deal possible.”

Mrs Foster said she and Mrs Dodds had presented their case against the Withdrawal Agreement.

“This was a useful meeting where we were able to outline why the Withdrawal Agreement would be bad for the long-term Northern Ireland economy,” she said.

“A particular focus was placed on how the Withdrawal Agreement would set the EU in control of many of our rules and regulations yet Northern Ireland businesses would have no democratic input.”

Mrs Foster said she believes the focus at this point should be on trying to get a better deal.

“It is clear there is no enthusiasm for this Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons,” she said.

“Businesses want certainty, therefore should not waste the next few weeks in advance of the meaningful vote, especially when many parliamentarians have already made up their minds to reject the deal.

“We should use this time to work on getting a better deal which works for the UK and Northern Ireland.”

Earlier, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said her party along with the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party spoke for a “cross-community majority”.

“We collectively as four pro-Remain parties have been consistent in saying we speak for a cross-community majority of people here who voted to remain and clearly as we enter into the next number of weeks, this really is crunch time,” she said.

“What’s on the table currently in the form of the Withdrawal Agreement is the least worst outcome.”