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Business people staggered at EU vote result, says top chairman

By Margaret Canning

Former Harland and Wolff boss Sir John Parker - a board member of European aerospace giant Airbus - has said inward investment into Northern Ireland and Great Britain is at risk following last week's Brexit vote.

The Co Down man, who is also chairman of mining giant Anglo American, said businesspeople were "staggering" under the shock of the 52%/48% vote to leave the EU.

Airbus is a European company with a major wing manufacturing facility in England - and it relies on many Northern Ireland aerospace companies such as Denroy Plastics in Bangor in its supply chain.

He said inward investors in the UK, including Airbus in England and Bombardier in Northern Ireland, "will be reassessing whether we will put more fresh capital down or not and it's just a natural follow-on from what's happened".

Sir John suggested many of those who had voted to leave were in shock. "They are shocked that the pound did collapse and shares did drop the way they did.

"The only economic argument the Leave side had was that everything that was being said by serious bodies like the IMF and Bank of England was scaremongering.

"Now what they've said would happen, has happened."

Meanwhile, Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrightbus - whose founder William Wright championed a Brexit - would not say if leaving the EU would make any change to its plans for the future.

"As a company, we have not, and do not intend, to make any comment on Brexit. Dr William Wright had his own independent views on the matter - however, that was his personal view."

Chief Leave campaigner Boris Johnson visited Wrightbus in February in the final months of his tenure as London Mayor.

Meanwhile, John-George Willis, head of the corporate department at law firm Tughans, said that the Brexit vote had created a "temporary" loss of confidence.

"However, there is no real fear for the future."

And in the event of a full Brexit, he said dropping the EU's State Aid rules could enable the Executive to give aid to struggling businesses. But he added: "A deal does need to be reached and it must be a deal which gives Freedom of Movement. The agri-food industries would grind to a halt in Northern Ireland without the input of foreign workers. You couldn't pick apples in Armagh without them."

He predicted that a deal would be reached which would include access to the single market, and that free movement would continue. "There will be a fudge and a compromise. The UK would be made to trigger Article 50 without a compromise agreement which would bring with it free movement of workers."

But the price the UK would pay would be having no input into the legislature of the EU, he added.

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