Invest NI sponsor pro-Brexit event even though it claims to have no position on issue
Invest NI sponsored a pro-Brexit event, despite stating that it has no position on the subject, Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The news comes just days after the government-funded business advisory body publicly declared it would not take a position on the upcoming referendum.
However, a well-placed insider said that he attended a pro-Brexit event at which the organiser thanked Invest NI for sponsorship.
Outspoken Conservative Euro-sceptic Daniel Hannan was the event's sole speaker, and told those in attendance how British financial companies "will flourish outside the EU".
The author of "Why Vote Leave" told those at the soiree how he believed there had been an ongoing shift of financial power from the Atlantic to the Pacific in contrast to a steady decline in the EU's contribution to global economic growth. His argument was not balanced against that of any other guest speakers. The event entitled "EUreka or EUlogy? - Brexit and the British financial services industry" was run by Heritage, a financial services company with bases in Belfast, London, Malta and Guernsey, but had been sponsored by Invest NI.
Between 80-100 guests were offered canapes and champagne at the event which was held in central London on January 28. The insider told the Belfast Telegraph how he felt "uncomfortable" with the excessive level of hospitality when he heard that the event had been sponsored with public money.
The event invitation read: "Heritage Financial Services Group cordially invites you to a drinks reception and industry presentation at the magnificent Trinity House building on Tower Hill.
"Guest speaker for the evening is Daniel Hannan, Member of the European Parliament for the South East of England, who will present his thoughts on 'Global London: How British Financial Services will flourish outside the EU'. Daniel speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes the EU is making its member countries poorer, less democratic and less free."
Heritage confirmed no other guest speakers spoke at the event, however, a spokesperson claimed the event did not reflect the views of the company, despite those in attendance saying "it had been hammered into us that we should leave".
The insider said: "I found it odd that it wasn't balanced in any way. It was an event where the speaker wasn't countered in any argument he made. I had already read a lot of articles on the subject, but if I hadn't, I would have walked out feeling that we should leave the EU."
A spokesman for Heritage said Invest NI would frequently "support the company's marketing efforts", but would not go into detail about sponsorship of the event in January.
He also said that the event was aimed at bringing more investment from its London clients into Belfast. He confirmed there was only one speaker talking on one side of the debate, but added that organisers "thought it would get debate going".
A spokeswoman for Invest NI said: "I can confirm that Invest NI did sponsor the networking event at Trinity House on January 28 organised by Heritage.
"Invest NI sponsors a broad range of events in key sectors as part of its activity to reach potential investors and key influencers.
"In this case the event presented an opportunity to network with fund managers and representatives in the financial services industry, a key FDI market.