May’s Brexit speech movement but not entirely welcome

Mrs May has acknowledged the significance of the border but there are real fears about trade after Brexit
Mrs May has acknowledged the significance of the border but there are real fears about trade after Brexit

Information at last but not necessarily the information local companies had been waiting for was the reaction to Prime Minister Theresa May’s long awaited thoughts on Brexit.

Ms May’s confirmation that the UK will negotiate a new customs union deal with the EU but leave the single market was given a cautious welcome by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), but attacked as “clearly not good news” by indepenedent retail group NIIRTA.

After months of speculation as to the shape Brexit might take, Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said any direction was a start.

“Businesses have been dealing with a lot of uncertainty in the past six months and they will therefore welcome some guidance on the type of Brexit the UK is seeking,” she said.

“The Prime Minister has said her plans for Brexit cannot allow the UK to remain in the European single market but that she will work to get an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU.

“Negotiating agreements can take years and it would therefore be good to hear what is planned in the interim to allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and EU.”

“A negotiated UK-EU Free Trade Agreement will not go far enough in meeting the concerns of our members, particularly around free movement of people.

“It is important that Northern Ireland can continue, as far as possible, to trade with ease with EU member states.”

“The Prime Minister says she also wants a customs agreement with the EU which could mean partial membership of the customs union. However, NI Chamber believes that this must come without costly customs checks and administrative costs for businesses which would pose a threat to Irish cross-border trade.”

CBI NI regional director Angela McGowan said the business community welcomed the greater clarity and the ambition to create a more prosperous UK with the freest possible trade between it and the EU.

“However, ruling out membership of the Single Market has reduced options for maintaining barrier-free and tariff-free trading relationship between the UK and the EU,” she said.

“Given the importance of the EU to NI exports, the significance of leaving the Single Market is an important issue for the local economy. While local businesses want to make a success of Brexit, there are undoubtedly concerns about falling back on damaging WTO rules.

NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said it was very clear Mrs May had decided on a hard Brexit.

“What should happen is that Governments in Dublin, Belfast and London must ensure that Brexit does not result in the hardening of the border and that no barriers whatsoever are placed on trade or workers from across the EU.

“Disentangling the UK from the EU is going to be both time consuming and tricky and we need to ensure that we leave on the best possible terms with our European partners”

“A post-Brexit Northern Ireland needs to be a self-confident, outward looking innovative region, which is the very best place in the UK and Ireland to locate or start a business.”