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Brexit: Business groups to attend crisis meeting at Stormont in attempt to calm nerves after EU Referendum

By John Mulgrew

Published 29/06/2016

Business Secretary Sajid Javid arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street yesterday
Business Secretary Sajid Javid arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street yesterday

Stormont is due to hold an emergency meeting of business groups next week to discuss the impact of the UK's decision to leave the EU.

A letter from the Department for the Economy's permanent secretary, seen by this paper, invites some of Northern Ireland's main business leaders to an event on July 4 to discuss the potential crisis facing industry here.

The letter, sent by Dr Andrew McCormick, reads: "I am writing to invite you to a discussion on the implication of the Brexit referendum result for Northern Ireland. I would like to take advantage of the meeting already organised with a wider group on Monday, July 4."

The event will be held at the Park Avenue hotel in east Belfast, following the laying out of the Executive's Programme for Government.

Northern Ireland's politicians have already raised concerns over what the business landscape will look like here following a Brexit.

It is understood the majority of business leaders and groups are being invited to the event, including the CBI and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as those representing manufacturing and other sectors.

It comes as Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen said she would "ensure that farmers and processors are not disadvantaged by leaving the EU".

"Just because we will be out of the EU does not mean that we will not be trading with the EU," she added. "I want to ensure that we retain a strong relationship with Europe, and in particular our neighbour the Republic of Ireland. I want to make sure we get the best deal possible for the industry in Northern Ireland."

Ms McIlveen and colleague Simon Hamilton, the Economy Minister, met a number of groups from the farming community yesterday, including the Ulster Farmers' Union, NI Meat Exporters Association, NI Grain Trade Association and Dairy UK.

After hearing concerns about farm subsidies and cross-border trade, Ms McIlveen said she was "establishing a senior team" to tackle the issues.

"I will be having discussions with Whitehall, the European Union and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that the rights of Northern Ireland farmers are protected," she explained.

Simon Hamilton said: "We will act in the best interests of Northern Ireland to ensure the industry here is able to thrive. While there will undoubtedly be change, we are presented with many opportunities."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken called on the Executive to "urgently enact discussions and legislate to help recover confidence for our business sector, especially for our manufacturing sectors, agri-business, tourism, retail, and above all, our many small and medium enterprises".

"However, more than that, we are putting forward positive suggestions on how the Northern Ireland economy should be stimulated in this new age of uncertainty," he said.

News of the meeting next Monday came after Business Secretary Sajid Javid's first engagement with the UK's top business leaders since the shock EU referendum result.

The event was attended by the UK's leading business trade associations, including the CBI, Institute of Directors, EFF and the British Chambers of Commerce.

Mr Javid said the number one issue raised had been maintaining access to the single market. "My number one priority will be just that in the negotiations to come," he added.

The CBI's director in Northern Ireland, Nigel Smyth, said the group's director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, had been briefed on the issue that Northern Ireland's big business concern is maintaining a soft border with the Republic.

Meanwhile, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said that Britain should not hold a second referendum and that the Government should instead act quickly to provide businesses with certainty and to prevent jobs being moved overseas.

Mr Khan explained that the vote to leave the European Union must be respected.

His intervention came as figures showed that UK shop sales began to slow down ahead of last week's historic vote on the UK's membership of the EU.

That is according to the latest survey from the CBI, which said growth slipped to "plus five" in June.

The survey was conducted between May 26 and June 14, before the Brexit referendum was held on June 23.

Belfast Telegraph

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