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Northern Ireland's very distinct, bespoke needs must be addressed: Brexit Advisory Panel chair

By Ken Brundle

Published 23/11/2016

Ken Brundle
Ken Brundle

Northern Ireland has a unique case in Brexit negotiations. After Brexit occurs Northern Ireland will have a common land border with the EU. We are also coming out of a period of great political instability and what we have must be preserved and supported.

Our economy is now reliant on cross-border trade, with 37% of Northern Ireland-exported goods going to the Republic of Ireland.

People also cross the border daily to work, for education, health care, shopping and for leisure.

We enter the Brexit negotiations with enormous legacy challenges, and an annual subvention of £9bn per annum from Westminster.

Since the referendum UK gilt yields have fallen to significant lows, causing major problems for pension schemes in Northern Ireland companies and organisations.

The drop in sterling, while creating opportunities for some sectors, has increased the cost of imports.

Northern Ireland universities already report being excluded from collaborative projects with EU universities, while the status of EU migrants is unclear, many feeling unwelcome and planning to leave.

After the vote, the Ulster Unionist Party established a Brexit Advisory Panel, which I serve as chair, with representatives from business, academia, the community and voluntary sector, farming and agri-food, manufacturing and construction, among others. The panel is politically independent, with members' participation not indicative of support for the Ulster Unionist Party, nor are its recommendations binding on the party. After months of meetings the panel have published a paper which sets out our views and recommendations. It has been distributed to Northern Ireland political parties, to relevant interest groups, and those with influence in the European Union.

Underpinning our work has been a strong feeling that there has been a lack of co-operation, with no one clearly articulating the collective voice of Northern Ireland.

Across all members of the panel there was clear appreciation that Northern Ireland has distinct bespoke needs, which must be heard in London, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Brussels and in non-EU countries.

The paper sets out five key red lines which must not be crossed:

√ Free movement of goods, capital, services and persons between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; no immigration or Customs controls on the border, or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

l No tariffs or quotas on any goods - including on agricultural goods - traded with the EU. The UK should remain a member of the EU's Single Market and the EU Customs Union.

l No restrictions should be imposed on the ability of businesses and organisations in Northern Ireland to recruit internationally the best people and also no restrictions on the recruitment of staff and students to our universities and colleges.

l EU Peace funds have been vital for developing cross-community relations and must be continued or be replaced by equivalent amounts.

l Northern Ireland needs a significant financial stimulus to address its longer term economic and infrastructure requirements, which are now required even more because of Brexit.

Ken Brundle is chair of the Ulster Unionists' Brexit Advisory Panel

Belfast Telegraph

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