'Hard' Brexit best for Northern Ireland, claims Leave campaigner
One of Northern Ireland's main campaigners for Brexit has welcomed clarification from the Prime Minister on when she will invoke Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU.
At the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday, Theresa May said Article 50 - which starts the two-year leaving period - would be invoked by the end of next March.
Jeff Peel, the head of Quadriga Consulting in Northern Ireland and one of the main Leave voices in the run-up to the referendum, welcomed her remarks. He said: "Now we can get on with the job of negotiating the nature of the exit."
The pound hit a three-year low against the euro yesterday as fears mounted of a so-called 'hard' Brexit - although the weaker pound has boosted UK manufacturing, which last month recorded its strongest results.
Despite fears over the implications for Northern Ireland - and particularly its trade with the Republic - Mr Peel said a "hard exit" was required "not the type of arrangement that would require us to stay in the single market and continue to accept EU strictures".
But drinks giant C&C has warned that a change in the trading relationship between Ireland and the UK would lead to increased costs and bureaucracy for its all-island business, in a detailed submission to the House of Lords. The manufacturer of Magners said while its Irish and UK businesses have separate sales teams, the supply chain is integrated across both jurisdictions.
In its submission to the House of Lords enquiry into the impact of the Brexit vote on the UK and Ireland, the Dublin-headquartered company said the change posed could impact on the livelihood of its suppliers in the UK.
The submission notes that the company buys around 80,000 tonnes of apples every year to make cider, with 70,000 from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Dr David Armstrong, a partner with business advisors PwC in Northern Ireland, said that while the Prime Minister had laid down a timetable, there was still much to be done. The Prime Minister had indicated she would consult with the devolved nations but that negotiations would be between the UK and the UK, "the responsibility of the government and nobody else".
He said: "That implies that the UK regions and devolved nations need to have completed their own assessment of the implications, cost and opportunities associated with leaving the EU and fed these into the consultation process.
"Given that the Brexit clock starts counting down sometime inside the next 24 weeks, there's a lot of work still to be done."
Dr Esmond Birnie of the Ulster University economic policy centre said the Prime Minister had made it clear negotiations would be a UK issue rather than a regional one. He added: "It is a separate question how far the London central government will give weight to Northern Ireland, especially if Northern Ireland's interest appears to differ from that of, say, England."
Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers Union said the confirmation of a timetable highlighted the need for a real debate about what will replace the common agricultural policy (CAP) for UK farmers.
UFU president Barclay Bell said: "The sooner the debate begins in earnest, the greater the chances of this being an opportunity to create a new support model that will deliver a thriving future for farmers, the countryside and the rural economy."