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Brexit: Northern Ireland traders to pay price of ‘flextension’ says Retail NI member

Warning after Johnson gets three-month Brexit delay ... but election plan voted down

An election is a distraction to retailers and shoppers at the busiest time of Northern Ireland’s shopping calendar, Retail NI says.
An election is a distraction to retailers and shoppers at the busiest time of Northern Ireland’s shopping calendar, Retail NI says.
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

More uncertainty around our exit date from the EU and a lingering threat of a general election around Christmas time could damage the retail market, according to a prominent business figure.

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Entrepreneur Gavan Wall, a member of the Retail NI Board, slammed Boris Johnson's vote for a general election which he said could create a distraction in the run-up to the sector's busiest trading period.

He said: "Christmas is a bad time of year for an election for everyone. It's going to affect shopping days and instead of hearing Santa jingles, we'll be hearing Boris jingles."

The comments came before MPs voted to reject a December 12 election plan.

Mr Wall also said the best outcome for business in Northern Ireland would be for the UK to remain in the EU, but said the latest delay could be beneficial as it is better to take time and get the best deal possible.

"From a business perspective, I think full membership of the EU is far better, but it's absolutely crucial that we get Brexit right because of the once-in-a-generation impact there will be on Northern Ireland and the UK," he said.

"It is important that we take our time and get the deal right, or at least to protect Northern Ireland from a no-deal."

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EU leaders have agreed in principle to extend Brexit until January 31 next year, meaning the UK will not leave as planned on Thursday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was required to request an extension when Parliament failed to agree a deal.

Mr Johnson had repeatedly said the UK would leave on October 31 deadline with or without a deal, even going so far as to say he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than remain past the Halloween deadline.

However, he was required to accept the EU's extension offer as a result of the Benn Act and EU Council President Donald Tusk said it was a "flextension" - meaning the UK could leave before the deadline if a deal was approved by Parliament.

Mr Wall added: "Obviously the delay is a good thing because it removes the risk of a no-deal.

"Anyone from Northern Ireland with any sense whatsoever wants to avoid a no-deal situation, which would be bad for business here."

Meanwhile Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also said it is crucial the Government does everything it can to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

"Businesses in Northern Ireland will be relieved and frustrated in equal measure," she said.

"As frustrating as it will be for many, avoiding a messy departure is critical.

"A short extension which unlocks complexities and allows for a smooth transition is infinitely preferable to a no-deal exit."

A number of different dates for an election were put forward yesterday, with Mr Johnson proposing December 12, while the SNP and Lib Dems have proposed December 9.

Business leaders here have given a cautious welcome to Mr Johnson's proposals for leaving the EU, with Simon Hamilton, chief executive of the Belfast Chamber of Trade, and entrepreneur Bill Wolsey, saying it is better than a no-deal Brexit.

Belfast Telegraph