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UK Government 'unlikely to replace N Ireland's EU funds in event of Brexit'

Published 19/05/2016

Business chiefs gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee investigating the impact of a Brexit
Business chiefs gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee investigating the impact of a Brexit

The UK Government is unlikely to be able to replace European funding in Northern Ireland, the Institute of Directors (IoD) said.

Economic growth inspired by a future reduction in corporation tax on businesses may slowly close the gap, the influential organisation of business leaders added.

It gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs which is investigating the impact of a Brexit.

The lobby group said: "Given the level of support that Northern Ireland receives from Treasury and the contribution that we have received and continue to receive from Europe - peace funding, agriculture support, Interreg and research etc - we believe it unlikely that the UK Government will be able or willing to replicate funding to the same degree, especially when the Chancellor is still cutting back public expenditure.

"Given time and a reduction in corporation tax supplemented by other measures, economic growth here might help to close the gap but it could take a considerable time to do so."

Brexit campaigners have claimed Northern Ireland got back £67 million less than it contributed to Europe last year.

A snap UK-wide IoD survey following the Prime Minister's agreement with the EU earlier this year showed that 60% would vote to remain in the EU and 31% would vote to leave.

A Northern Ireland survey showed that closer to 75% of respondents would prefer to stay in.

The IoD as an organisation is neutral but said only a fraction of listed company boards were discussing the risks associated with Brexit.

It warned: "The uncertainty as to the outcome of the referendum presents a real challenge.

"Running a business is inevitably risky and managing risk is an ongoing issue for leaders. Any uncertainty makes it difficult for them to plan ahead.

"In the event of an exit vote, uncertainty will continue until there is clarity on the way ahead."

It said EU employment and social policy was unhelpful to business, and European Court of Justice rulings on areas like holiday pay calculation made employment law complex.

However, it said the EU was a significant market for its members, two thirds who responded to a recent survey traded in or with the EU and nearly half imported goods from the union.

A quarter of businesses benefited directly from EU funding and nearly half employed EU nationals from outside the UK.

Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly member Daithi McKay said Chancellor George Osborne had been eager to cut public spending.

"Only a fool would believe he will replace European funding for agriculture, PEACE, and other funding streams should there be a decision to leave the EU," he said.

"On an island the size of Ireland, which has been failed by partition, it makes no sense to take any steps to reinforce the border.

"Surveys show the vast majority of people here are against Brexit from the EU.

"They recognise the benefits that businesses reap from the European market. They see an exit from Europe will only lead to years of uncertainty and isolation."

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