Business ‘extremely frustrated’ at EU delay

There is growing fear that rejection of Theresa May's deal could result in real damage to the province's economy
There is growing fear that rejection of Theresa May's deal could result in real damage to the province's economy

Frustration within the Northern Ireland business community is turning to anger it has been claimed as the Brexit debate collapsed into Parliamentary chaos and Prime Minister Theresa May admitted on Monday the backstop had scuppered the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mrs May cancelled the vote planned for today and is to return to Europe in the hope of reaching a new accommodation for the province as business leaders were leftwondering what exactly will happen.

“Wish I knew,” said one adding “Wish they knew.”

After months of debate, confusion and no little amount of rancour, none of the main organisations were even attempting to see a positive.

“Many business leaders will be extremely frustrated by yet another delay in this drawn-out process, which impacts real-world business conditions, not least currency markets,” said Ann McGregor, CEO of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber).

“Businesses are clear that time is rapidly running out. With just over 100 days to go until the 29th of March, many are already enacting contingency plans in the absence of clarity from Westminster. Earlier this year 37% of NI Chamber members told us that they are already scaling down/freezing growth plans because of Brexit.

“Even basic business planning for next year has become difficult, if not impossible, for many firms and their investors.”

Speaking from London, Manufacturing NI chief Stephen Kelly said a workable backstop remained an essential component of a deal.

“With the UK’s Brexit red lines, Northern Ireland manufacturers need a workable backstop. Farming, community and voluntary sector, trade unions agree too,” he said.

“We’ve had a number of calls from firms watching events in Parliament. Each are worried, many are angry.

“The country is clearly divided, Parliament even more so. Yet, apart from the Withdrawal Agreement, nothing else is real.

“We need a deal and we need it now so we can avoid a disastrous no deal outcome, bank the transition period and get on to the more important long term future relationship negotiations.”

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “Any delay to a future agreement is extremely concerning, particularly with just three months to go until the UK leaves the EU.

“It is imperative to retailers in Northern Ireland that they get clarity about their future trading relationship with our neighbours.

“A no-deal outcome would result in higher costs, harming consumers in NI who already suffer from having half the discretionary spending power of those in the rest of the UK. Parliament must urgently find a workable proposal to avoid a cliff-edge no-deal scenario. The Brexit clock is ticking loudly.”

Retail NI CEO Glyn Roberts said: “While it was very clear that the Prime Minister would have lost the vote on the draft deal, its postponement and more negotiations with EU causes ever more instability for the economy and the business community.

“The business community recognises that the draft deal was far from perfect but was far better than a disastrous no deal”

“We have real concerns that today’s developments in the House of Commons bring us closer to a no deal scenario.

“There is no good Brexit deal and the best we can hope for is damage limitation for the economy.”