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Action needed to protect our access to Europe

By Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA)

Published 28/06/2016

People protest against the EU exit
People protest against the EU exit

NIIRTA, along with colleagues in the CBI, Manufacturing NI and NI Food and Drink Association (Nifda) advocated that Northern Ireland and the UK should remain in the EU and so clearly we are disappointed with the outcome of the Referendum.

For many local businesses this is a difficult and uncertain time. The road ahead will be a huge challenge as we adjust to the huge impact of a future outside the EU.

The focus now is on how we move forward, create the stability and confidence all sectors of our economy need and try and put the divisions of the referendum behind us.

Small businesses and independent retailers in Northern Ireland understandably have all manner of questions about what the post-EU scenario will look like, and what the transition will mean for their operations.

At Westminster, we need strong, calm and decisive leadership in place as soon as possible.

Above all else we need a clear plan to ensure the protection of tariff and barrier-free access to the EU's €11m single market, with its 500 million consumers and 26 million businesses.

New separate trade deals with the over 50 countries across the world that are currently covered by our membership of the EU are also a UK Government priority.

The governments in Dublin, Belfast and London must also start immediate negotiations to ensure that Brexit does not result in the hardening of the border and that no barriers are placed on trade or cross-border workers. We also want to see the NI Executive Office in Brussels to continue and to have an enhanced role in promoting trade opportunities with Invest NI.

We welcome the commitment of the Prime Minister to include the devolved governments in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff in the discussions about a new relationship with the EU.

Locally, the First and Deputy First Ministers need to ensure they establish an effective partnership with the business community as these vital negotiations start.

NIIRTA has real concerns about the impact of Brexit on our border towns and cities, such as Newry, Derry and Strabane.

Our Economy Minister needs to have immediate discussions with the Chambers of Commerce in the border areas to try and address the very real fears of their business community and cross border trade.

While the outcome of Thursday's vote was not what we would have wished for, we have to respect what the majority of the UK people have said.

We also need to respect that Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain and that whatever new relationship is made with EU, it reflects Northern Ireland's unique circumstances.

Belfast Telegraph

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