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Brexit will not benefit the Northern Ireland economy over next five years, business people tell CBI poll

By Margaret Canning

Published 27/07/2016

From left: Nigel Smyth, Steven Altmann-Richer, and David Gavaghan, all of CBI, Angela McGowan of Danske Bank, Michael Neill of A&L Goodbody, and Nigel Harra, BDO Northern Ireland
From left: Nigel Smyth, Steven Altmann-Richer, and David Gavaghan, all of CBI, Angela McGowan of Danske Bank, Michael Neill of A&L Goodbody, and Nigel Harra, BDO Northern Ireland

Business people in Northern Ireland think Brexit will bring no benefit to the economy here for the next five years, a survey has said.

In a snap poll of more than 100 business people at a CBI seminar yesterday, none could identify a positive impact for the province.

And just under 90% said the vote to leave the EU would have a greater economic impact on Northern Ireland than the UK as a whole.

And 92% said they felt that Brexit would have a negative impact on the economy here in the next five years.

But David Gavaghan, chairman of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said members recognised there was a need to get on with the task of Brexit.

"Many businesses in Northern Ireland are asking what Brexit means for them and, critically, what to do now," he said.

"For the majority of our members they highlighted the benefits of a single market and ready access to labour and talent.

"Whatever the actual outcome of the negotiations over the next period, our members recognise the fundamental need to get on with it."

Mr Gavaghan said business now needed to work with the Executive and society.

"We need to work together to identify the key economic priorities and ensure that we do everything we can within our power to make this a great place to invest and do business - recognising the central role of our principal cities to attract productive investment will be important," he said.

Business leaders from sectors including agri-food, ICT, manufacturing and energy were at yesterday's breakfast seminar.

A panel of speakers included Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan - who will succeed Nigel Smyth as regional director of the CBI in October.

Ms McGowan said businesses were facing challenges.

"Flexibility, collaboration and a relentless focus on growth and competitiveness will be needed," she added.

Nigel Harra, a senior partner at business advisers BDO who also took part in the panel discussion, said: "Many businesses are nervous about the long-term implications of the UK leaving the EU in the months and years ahead, but for now the demand for local goods and services has not disappeared.

"Our trade partners have not lost confidence in our expertise and experience.

"On the whole, we remain competitive and must use this time to take stock of how we can best adapt to a changing trading environment."

One-third of business people at the event said Brexit would have a negative impact on their operations. Just 2% thought it would have a positive impact on their firms, while just under 60% said they were still assessing the impact on their operations.

Around half (52%) said Brexit would have a "strongly negative" effect on the economy over the next five years, while 40% said it would be "slightly negative".

But none said that the impact would be positive - and just under two-thirds (64%) said they felt Northern Ireland should be granted some special status within the EU that would allow it to remain.

And almost all believed that Northern Ireland should have its own trade representative in negotiations over Brexit.

Michael Neill, a partner at law firm A&L Goodbody, said that the changes arising from Brexit would evolve over time.

"These changes will affect a range of areas, including regulated finance, energy, procurement and employment law and many others," he added. 

Percentage of business people at the CBI seminar who believed that Brexit would have a "strongly negative" effect on the economy over the next five years

Belfast Telegraph

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