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We will have to drop the labels Leave and Remain to get best deal on Europe

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By Glyn Roberts

I campaigned for a Remain vote in the EU Referendum - but now, the key question is how we move forward and away from the labels of Remain and Leave to ensure Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole forge a new relationship with the EU, post-Brexit.

Above all else, we all need to bring solutions, not problems to the challenge of Brexit.

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, to create the stability and confidence all sectors of our economy need, which means strong, calm and decisive leadership at Westminster and Stormont.

It is vital that the NI Executive and the UK Government produce a clear plan to ensure the protection of tariff and barrier free access to the €11bn single market, with its 500 million consumers and 26 million businesses.

The governments in Dublin, Belfast and London must ensure that Brexit does not result in the hardening of the border and that no barriers are placed on trade or workers from across the EU. Disentangling the UK from the EU is going to be both time consuming and tricky and we need to ensure that we leave on the best possible terms with our European partners.

According to our colleagues in the British Retail Consortium, the UK retail sector employs 120,000 EU nationals and this includes a very significant number locally. They make a huge contribution to our local retail, hospitality and food sectors and deserve early reassurance that they will still be welcome here and they should not be used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.

We deserve the best possible deal and the NI Executive Office in Brussels needs not just to remain open, but to have additional resources and an enhanced role in promoting trade opportunities with the Single Market and maintaining relationships with key players in the EU.

Northern Ireland needs some degree of special status in its relationship with the EU and we call upon the Executive and the NIO to produce a draft model of what that will look like, which could form the basis of negotiations. Whatever new relationship is made with the EU, it must reflect Northern Ireland's unique circumstances. A post-Brexit Northern Ireland needs to be a self-confident, outward looking, innovative region - the very best place in the UK and Ireland to locate or start a business.

  • Glyn Roberts is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA)

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