NI business chiefs meet Prime Minister for Brexit talks

Theresa May makes a statement about Brexit outside 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire
Theresa May makes a statement about Brexit outside 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire

Business leaders from Northern Ireland warned a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” and urged the DUP to back Theresa May’s agreement with Brussels.

A delegation from Northern Ireland met the Prime Minister in Downing Street to set out their concerns.

Their visit came as the DUP’s MPs stressed the Withdrawal Agreement was unacceptable to them.

After talks in Number 10, Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly told the Press Association: “The united front from the business community and the agricultural community in Northern Ireland is that ‘no deal’ is not an option.

“We need a deal. To crash out in 130 days or so, that’s catastrophic to the Northern Ireland economy and catastrophic as well to the rest of the UK.

“So ‘no deal’ is not an option, first. The second thing is that the future relationship is where this will be won for the UK but to get there we need the Withdrawal Agreement.

“We would hope that not just the DUP but all parties in Parliament would rally around this Withdrawal Agreement, rally around the Political Declaration and let’s move on to a more positive, substantive future relationship conversation.”

He said MPs in the DUP and other parties should think of the impact the failure to get a deal through the Commons would have on their constituents.

Mr Kelly said the DUP “were very clear in their strong views about Brexit prior to the referendum, those haven’t shifted at all”.

He added: “Do we believe that they will change their mind? Probably not. But they are only 10 of 650 MPs in Parliament.

“Every constituency has people who depend on ensuring the borders stay open, that trade continues to flow and that jobs are created in those communities.

“So every MP has something at stake here and they need to think long and hard about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for their constituents.”

He stressed the importance of the controversial “backstop” measure aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland.

“Right now we are particularly satisfied in terms of the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said.

“We have that insurance policy that ensures the Northern Ireland border will not appear again, ensures our trade will continue to flow and ensures that our businesses are able to be successful.

“The Political Declaration today goes much further in terms of the future relationship but we know we are in a good place if all of this falls down.”

He backed the Prime Minister to get a deal through Parliament, saying: “If I were a betting man - and I fancy a bet every now and then - I think she’ll get it through.

“This Prime Minister seems to be very determined, very steely and eventually I think Parliament will come around to supporting her.”

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said: “The Government needs to recognise that there is no enthusiasm for the Withdrawal Agreement across all sides of the House of Commons.

“The Prime Minister must accept that it is not a pure choice for MPs between her Withdrawal Agreement and a so-called ‘no deal’, rather it is time to work for a better deal.”

Organisations at the Downing Street event included the CBI NI, Ulster Farmers Union and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mrs May told them: “I know many of you have been out there stating your support for the draft deal.

“I want to thank you for that. Your voices are incredibly important.”