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Invest NI comes under pressure to stop sitting on fence over upcoming EU referendum

By John Mulgrew

Published 13/04/2016

Invest NI chairman Mark Ennis
Invest NI chairman Mark Ennis

Invest NI has said the EU referendum is a "live issue" with potential investors when it comes to considering whether to invest in Northern Ireland.

And it has come under fire from both sides of the Brexit debate for failing to declare its own position on the EU referendum.

The economic development agency has said that while its board has "considered" the impact of the UK leaving the EU, it isn't saying whether Northern Ireland should remain, or exit.

But the agency has been accused of being "cynical" in not declaring a pro-EU hand, while a Brexit supporter has said its "statement of neutrality is confused and mistaken".

Bro McFerran, former managing director of insurance giant Allstate, said he can't see "how Invest NI's interests would benefit by Brexit". He said: "They may say, the EU has curtailed funding, controlled by the EU. That's the only downside from an Invest NI point of view. It sounds like a cynical position they are taking up.

"The first thing is, the big attraction, is that Northern Ireland is part of the EU. With American investment we have some sort of foothold into Europe.

"If there is a Brexit, Northern Ireland will be considered as an off-shore part of the UK."

He said while EU "handcuffs" may be taken off Invest NI in terms of funding, he would expect the UK Treasury to impose its own restrictions.

And Jeff Peel, businessman and spokesman for pro-Brexit Business in Britain campaign, said Invest NI's statement of "neutrality" is "confused and mistaken".

"Amongst the many myths peddled by the pro-EU camp is that there is only certainty by remaining in the EU. This simply isn't true."

He said those who back keeping businesses in the "straitjacket of EU regulation and political meddling have no answers to fundamental questions".

Mark Ennis, chairman of the board of Invest NI, said it has "considered recently published reports and anecdotal feedback from companies, relating to both trade and market access issues associated with any decision to either remain in or leave the EU".

He said the board recognises that "given that there is no clarity" on what the UK and EU could look like following the referendum, "the potential upside of an exit in the long term is impossible to objectively assess".

He said there is "uncertainty" in the "short to medium term" on any business confidence "during any transition period".

And a spokeswoman for Invest NI said it is "aware that the referendum is a live issue with some potential investors and is part of their consideration when choosing a country location".

But it added that it is "unclear how both potential and existing investors would respond to a change" and how they "may view NI as an investment location in the future".

Belfast Telegraph

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