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Northern Ireland's corporation tax battle enters the final round

By Tom Moseley

The battle to secure control over Northern Ireland’s corporation tax rate reaches its endgame with a crunch meeting in London.

Ahead of what is likely to be the final gathering of the ministerial working group, business leaders made a plea to move on from the “same bland responses” that came out of previous sessions.

The group, chaired by Treasury Minister David Gauke, includes the First and Deputy First Ministers, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who makes her first appearance in the painstaking talks.

Previous sessions have failed to reach agreement on the figures involved in devolving the tax to Stormont, such as the size of the corresponding cut in Northern Ireland’s block grant and what would happen to extra tax receipts that could be generated.

Business bosses are lobbying hard for urgent action, but the Treasury rejected the idea that today's meeting was the final chance to settle the issue.

A spokeswoman said: “At the last meeting we said further work was necessary before a decision on Corporation Tax can be reached.

Ms Villiers is an advocate of low business taxes, and has denied she was brought into the Northern Ireland Office to “kill” the corporation tax project championed by her predecessor. Her spokesman said her approach tomorrow would be unchanged from last week’s speech at the Conservative Party conference, when she said she could “see the case for this change” but pointed to the “significant issues to overcome”.

This week, aerospace giant Bombardier said the corporation tax cut was needed to offset the impact of cuts to the EU aid grants that supported its recent £520m investment in the Northern Ireland.

Last night Glyn Roberts, of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said: “We need some indication of what the next steps are, rather than a bland statement which translates into a lack of progress.”

Background

Theresa Villiers’ predecessor as Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson, was an enthusiastic fan of devolving corporation tax powers. The Scottish independence referendum also represents a headache for supporters of corporation tax devolution. Alex Salmond could demand the same powers and use it in his argument for a ‘yes’ to independence vote.

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