Alternatives needed now from the anti withdrawal lobby

Opponents of Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement now need to outline their alternative proposals to the plan a leading business figure has claimed.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Ellvena Graham said there was little time left for any alternatives to be presented as she addressed more than 850 guests at the annual President’s Banquet at ICC Belfast last night.

Businesses have come through a lot but maintain their implacable opposition to a no deal leading to a hard border

Businesses have come through a lot but maintain their implacable opposition to a no deal leading to a hard border

“It is fair to say that the Prime Minister’s resilience has been matched only by that of businesses challenged by three years of nonstop political debate and continuous uncertainty,” she said .

“After a long period of negotiation we now have a draft Withdrawal Agreement which is undoubtedly a welcome step forward for the majority of businesses in Northern Ireland and it is definitely much better than a no-deal scenario.”

Reiterating the Chamber’s support for the best outcome for businesses, consumers and the future stability of the province, Ms Graham said it was ready to do everything required to get it.

“We have a vibrant and innovative business community that wants to invest and grow but it’s stymied because of the prolonged absence of a regional government and the endless Brexit bickering.

“We therefore encourage our political representatives who support the draft agreement to do everything in their power to influence political representatives in Britain to join them.

“For those that are not in support of the draft agreement, it is now time to outline your alternative proposals.

“We are willing to listen.”

On the ongoing absence of local government, she said the consequences were inevitably going to spell ongoing stagnation at every level.

“Last week, a list was published of all the things that are being held up by the lack of an Executive - a pile-up of more than 160 decisions affecting all aspects of Northern Ireland life – all needing the signature of a Minister,” she said.

“Every action – or indeed non-action – has consequences.

And the consequence of a lack of real political representation means that we have no consolidated voice to speak for us at a time when we have never needed it more.”