Declan Gormley, the managing director of Dunmurry-based energy-saving ventilation manufacturer Brookvent, said that he was already seeing benefits of the protocol, despite its creation of an Irish Sea border which makes it harder to bring in goods from Great Britain.
Brookvent’s GB rivals now face customs processes to sell to the EU. But Northern Ireland remains uniquely able to trade without impediment into both the EU and the UK. “Over time, this is going to benefit Northern Ireland enormously,” the successful businessman said.
Business figures are overwhelmingly reluctant to enter debate about Northern Ireland’s constitutional future but Mr Gormley said he believed that unionists were missing an opportunity.
Despite increased costs for manufacturers bringing in raw materials from GB, he said that this is likely to be resolved by opening up new supply lines to the Republic or the rest of the EU. TUV leader Jim Allister have warned that this creates an economic united Ireland as a precursor to political unity – just as the EU began as an economic project.
But Mr Gormley told the News Letter that the issue was an example of “how politics and economics in Northern Ireland conflate in a way that is not helpful and only serves to create division and rancour”.
He said: “Speaking as someone from a nationalist background, I don’t feel it is for me to opine on the sense of disenfranchisement felt by many in the unionist community.
“However,as a businessman, it strikes me that if your loyalty and allegiance is to London – as opposed to Dublin – then a successfully implemented protocol seems to offer the best possible option for securing Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.”
He said that Northern Ireland had been given an economic advantage over Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, having been “spared the worst impact of a hard Brexit by the existence of the protocol which allows Northern Ireland to continue to enjoy unfettered access to the EU Single market and unfettered access to the UK market at the same time.
“This puts Northern Ireland in a unique and highly advantageous position.
“Implemented properly, it has the potential to move Northern Ireland from the bottom of the regional economic league table in the UK to the top of it. It positions Northern Ireland as a place that will be highly attractive to foreign investment, offering a base for a company’s operations which affords them market access that they will not find anywhere else in the EU or the UK.”
He added: “In a thriving and successful Northern Ireland I would argue that the attractions of relinquishing this new found prosperity for a yet to be realised future offered by an all-Ireland referendum will be considerably diminished and make the chances of a vote in favour of such change very unlikely.
“Nationalists and republicans should be careful what they wish for in relation to the protocol. A fully implemented and successful protocol may make the task of persuading even their own supporters to give up their new found prosperity for an unknown future in a post-referendum all-Ireland much more difficult.”
He said the deal “may offer Unionists the best option for securing Northern Ireland’s place in the Union for exactly the same reasons”.
He insisted that all of the problems with the protocol’s implementation “are simply the normal challenges any one should expect when moving from one set of trading arrangements to another”.
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