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Business leader: NI most exposed to Brexit impact

By Noel McAdam

Published 07/07/2016

John McGrane at the Mac yesterday
John McGrane at the Mac yesterday

Northern Ireland will be the "most exposed area" of the European Union to the impact of Brexit, a senior Irish business leader has warned.

John McGrane, director general of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce (BICC), said those who believe Westminster will spend money saved from ending membership of the EU on Northern Ireland need to realise "that isn't going to happen".

There had already been "disinvestment" in London stretching back for the last few months, and any benefits to Irish border areas due to weaker Sterling would be short-term, he argued.

Overall, the Irish Republic, the second biggest market for firms here after the UK mainland, will spend less in the province, he predicted.

Mr McGrane, who worked for 40 years as a financial services professional with the Royal Bank of Scotland/Ulster Bank group in Ireland, said clarity on what form the UK's new relationship with the EU will take was needed "very quickly. At the moment we don't know what kind of 'leave' Leave wants," he said.

Yesterday's event was organised by the SDLP, which has warned that First Minister Arlene Foster has no authority to join negotiations to exit the EU, because of the vote here.

BICC, a private sector organisation representing businesses with all-Ireland interests, had campaigned for a reformed EU under the slogan 'lead not leave'.

But Mr McGrane said it respected the verdict of the referendum which a UK government would now have to execute.

"The Chamber is dedicated to supporting businesses in Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland, who must now plan for a changed environment," he said.

Also at the gathering Angela McGowan, who is Danske Bank's Chief Economist, said: "The economic landscape has changed considerably (but) there are more questions than answers just now.

"Clearly the economic environment that businesses in Northern Ireland face is rapidly changing. There is heightened uncertainty around a number of areas including future access to markets, taxation, investment and even cross border trade."

She said "untangling ourselves" from the EU will be a massive distraction for politicians and civil servants, and the business community would have to "roll up their sleeves" and decide how to make the best of a very different and challenging situation.

Professor David Phinnemore, of the school of politics, international studies and philosophy at Queen's University Belfast, said: "Negotiating a new relationship with the EU is going to be an extremely difficult task.

"The EU is a tough negotiator, will stick to a balance of rights and obligations, and will not entertain cherry-picking."

Opening the event, SDLP MLA Claire Hanna, deputy chair of the Assembly's finance committee, said the "very frustrating and stupid" referendum result "puts us in a very difficult place".

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