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Brexit: Theresa Villiers summons business leaders to talks on impact of EU Referendum result

By Yvette Shapiro

Published 04/07/2016

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

The pro-Brexit Secretary of State has summoned Northern Ireland's business leaders to a meeting to discuss last week's vote to leave the EU.

Theresa Villiers has asked all of the main business groups to take part in a discussion at Stormont House this morning where she will hear their concerns about the impact of the referendum result.

Although some of the industry bodies adopted an official neutral stance on the referendum, others including the CBI, campaigned hard for a Remain vote and have expressed deep disappointment in the result.

Ms Villiers will be asked to clarify the government's position on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. She has maintained her stance that there will be no restoration of border controls, but this has been challenged by many on the Remain side who believe that checkpoints are inevitable.

Industry leaders say this will drive up costs and will create a barrier to Northern Ireland's lucrative cross-border trade.

The meeting with the Secretary of State is one of a series of emergency summits attended by business leaders since last week's shock result.

Representatives of industry, unions and the voluntary sector attended a meeting called at short notice by Finance Minister Mairtin O'Muilleoir on Friday morning at the Belfast offices of the consultancy firm, PwC.

Mr O'Muilleoir said: "We recognised the need for honesty about the scale of the challenges and uncertainty arising from the EU referendum. We also agreed the importance of action from the Executive to protect our interests. This will require the Executive to be front and centre in any future negotiations to protect, for example, free movement of labour and trade, particularly on the island of Ireland."

Business groups are also scheduled to hold breakfast talks with senior officials of the Department for the Economy at a Belfast hotel this morning.

The discussion was planned some time ago to focus on the Executive's next Programme for Government, but the referendum result prompted the civil servants to put the issue of Brexit on the agenda.

"Unless we get confidence and stability restored soon we could talk ourselves into a mini recession," said Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association. "There's now a power vacuum at Westminster and that's very worrying.

"We need real leadership from politicians at Westminster and Stormont. The mood among business groups is quite downbeat, undoubtedly, but people are resolute. We need to see action and a clear plan at both national and local level. We're all agreed that we need to scope out what the challenges are address them."

Business leaders are also worried that international investors will suspend or cancel commitments and that the spectre of new tariffs and border controls will hit Northern Ireland's lucrative cross-border trade.

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