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Northern Ireland business groups arrive in Brussels to press their case over Brexit concerns

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland business groups will meet politicians and think tanks in Brussels today to outline their concerns over the impact of Brexit.

The groups will meet with permanent representatives from the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic during the two-day trip.

Among the organisations involved are Manufacturing NI, the Institute of Directors, the Quarry Products Association, the Londonderry Chamber and the Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The EU has been good for the Northern Ireland economy, removing borders, supporting peace-building, regenerating towns and cities, opening access to an all-island and pan-European economy and more.

"While there are efforts from the UK and Irish Governments to ensure Northern Ireland-specific issues are articulated, the absence of agreement at Stormont has left many, particularly those in business, deeply worried.

"There has never been a more important time to listen, engage, learn, build relationships and directly communicate about how we can avoid harm and make a success of Brexit for Northern Ireland, the UK and the European Union.

"We hope after this trip we will be better placed to propose and influence solutions, particularly around customs arrangements, labour mobility and market and regulatory access, which are fair to the EU and the UK and give some hope and certainty for firms locally to invest for the long-term and in creating jobs."

Responding to a UK-wide survey showing that output among manufacturers was at a three-year high, Mr Kelly said that while there may be a similar boost here, political uncertainty was continuing to create much concern.

"Our soundings confirm a similar boost to the manufacturing sector locally," he added. "Our exports are more competitive and imports from outside the UK are more expensive, so firms are getting a decent bite from Great Britain and Northern Ireland customers and consumers.

"There's a huge amount of political uncertainty, which is creating worry, so while some are making hay now while the sun is shining, many (others) are not making those critical investments which secure the long-term success of manufacturing businesses."

Output in the manufacturing industry jumped to a three-year high in April as new orders charged ahead on strong domestic and overseas demand.

The Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index showed a reading of 57.3 last month, up from a four-month low of 54.2 in March and above economists' expectations of 54. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Business confidence among manufacturers was robust in April, with UK markets driving the strongest inflows of new work since January 2014.

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