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Hard border would be economic threat, say business groups

By Margaret Canning and Colm Kelpie

Published 25/08/2016

Business groups say that a closed border would jeopardise the economy
Business groups say that a closed border would jeopardise the economy

Business groups in Northern Ireland have said special arrangements, including an open border, are crucial for the province following Brexit.

A coalition of groups said the geography of the province, as well as its economic and political structure, meant that "bespoke" arrangements were essential.

They identified agri-food, tourism and higher education as the sectors facing the most "severe" challenges from Brexit.

A statement was released by the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce on behalf of 11 top groups, including The Institute of Directors, Manufacturing NI and the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation, after a meeting in Belfast earlier this month.

It said business bodies "share the First Minster and Deputy First Minister's determination to keep the border open for trade and movement of people".

It added that agri-food's high levels of cross-border trade were in jeopardy from Brexit, while the benefit to Northern Ireland from the all-island tourism market could be undermined when the UK leaves the EU.

It also claimed higher education would be threatened if overseas students felt uncertain of residency and work rules, and that lecturers and researchers from EU countries were now more difficult to recruit.

The statement added: "Northern Ireland's businesses are uniquely affected by the perceived threat of a closed, or hard, border. Many of our businesses are reliant on cross-border flows of labour, trade and customers.

"UK/EU negotiations must recognise the importance for Northern Ireland businesses to retain the benefits to trade of access to the single market, including the customs union, and for the Common Travel Area to remain. Northern Ireland businesses must be allowed continued access to people and skills, customers and suppliers across the border."

Meanwhile, CBI representatives met yesterday with Finance Minister Mairtin Ó Muilleoir at Upstream in Belfast to discuss Brexit. "The key message left with the minister was the need for the NI Executive to be more ambitious and deliver faster and better outcomes, to offset the short/medium term challenges of Brexit," a spokesman said.

The CBI also said it had already discussed "shortcomings" in the Stormont Programme for Government with the First and Deputy First Ministers and senior officials. It said it will host a series of 'Question Time' events for members. The next will be with the Finance Minister on September 12 at the Stormont Hotel.

Elsewhere, it has emerged that Ireland's Revenue Commissioners are working to ensure a "practically invisible border" exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic once the UK formally leaves the European Union. A special meeting between Irish customs officials and trade representatives after the Brexit vote on June 23 discussed the potential need for border posts.

But customs staff hope electronic surveillance, like number plate recognition, can also be used to monitor vehicles crossing the border, so that traffic flow is kept as free as possible.

Belfast Telegraph

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