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Business boss calls border issue Brexit's 'litmus test'

By Margaret Canning

A successful resolution to what becomes of the border with the Republic will be the "litmus test" of Brexit, according to the new Belfast-born head of the Institute of Directors (IoD).

Former construction boss Stephen Martin said he was giving his first speech as IoD director general in Northern Ireland as it was on the "frontline" of Brexit.

Addressing the IoD annual dinner at Europa Hotel last night, he said: "Both the UK and Irish governments have stated they do not want a 'hard' border put in place - and we welcome that commitment - but we know this will just be one issue among many in broader Brexit negotiations with the EU. Getting the question of Northern Ireland's border with the Republic right will be the litmus test for a successful Brexit." Mr Martin, former chief executive of building firm Clugston Group, said he had joined the IoD at an interesting time.

"In just the last few weeks, we have seen the UK Government compelled by the Supreme Court to seek the approval of the Westminster Parliament before beginning Brexit proceedings, while in Northern Ireland, the resignation of the Deputy First Minister has triggered new Assembly elections, now just weeks away. You do not need me to tell you that political uncertainty has been dialled up a notch for businesses here in Northern Ireland."

And IoD chairman Ian Sheppard said the run-up to Brexit was "no time" for Northern Ireland to lack its government institutions.

"We are going to need words of grace... and leaders who have a vision to lift themselves above the parochial, and stretch themselves beyond their own constituency and make compromises to restore fully-functioning institutions. The next few months will be a real test of political maturity."

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