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Brexit 'threat' to budget and infrastructure projects

By Margaret Canning

Published 29/06/2016

Northern Ireland can expect a hit to its finances and infrastructure following the vote for a Brexit, a former Northern Ireland Office (NIO) minister warned yesterday.

Sir Richard Needham, the under-secretary of state for the region between 1985 and 1992, also called the referendum result "the worst political event for the UK in my political lifetime".

He warned that the decision to leave the EU had placed the future of inward investment and infrastructure projects, such as the proposed redevelopment of Kilkeel Harbour, in jeopardy.

Sir Richard, a former economy minister and Conservative Party member who was credited with helping to push the development of Belfast's Laganside and Cathedral Quarter areas, also said it was unlikely that the Treasury would make up the difference in the funding that Northern Ireland stands to lose from the EU.

"Things are going to get very, very difficult in the UK over next few years, and spending will be very, very tight," he warned.

"There are simply no votes in England which will be won over from spending money in Northern Ireland."

He also disagreed with Invest NI chief Alastair Hamilton, who has claimed the province still has a strong offering for inward investors.

"Why would you come to Northern Ireland or Britain if it's no longer in the EU?" Sir Richard asked. "I am extremely worried that this is putting the future growth of Northern Ireland at a real risk.

"It's the worst political event that has happened in the UK as a whole in my political lifetime.

"I can't see a solution to it. It also puts immense pressures on governments in Europe."

While worried for Northern Ireland's future, the former NIO minister confirmed he would tentatively back any leadership bid by former London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"He got us into this mess, so he can get us out of it - and I say that while sucking my teeth," he explained.

"In addition, he is European to his fingertips, though that stands on its head much of what he told voters during the campaign. But then who else is there?"

Invest NI maintained it was "confident that Northern Ireland will continue to succeed as an attractive location for investment, in particular from our largest target market, the USA".

A spokeswoman said the agency competed mainly on the province's low-cost advantages.

"The majority of investors, and those in our pipeline, are not looking for market access, nor will they be impacted by a change in that," she said.

"The two key factors - talent and cost - have not changed, so we expect to continue to drive forward on foreign direct investment."

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