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DUP must get on board with this agreement, says business chief

Stephen Kelly from Manufacturing NI and Claire Guinness from Warrenpoint Harbour were at the meeting
Stephen Kelly from Manufacturing NI and Claire Guinness from Warrenpoint Harbour were at the meeting
Chris Kirke
Michael Ryan
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The DUP and other Brexiteers need to consider the "catastrophic" consequences for Northern Ireland's economy of leaving the EU without a deal, a business leader has said.

Manufacturing NI chief Stephen Kelly was speaking after a high-level delegation involving the heads of some of Northern Ireland's biggest employers met directly with Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the draft EU withdrawal agreement.

The 50-strong delegation included Moy Park president Chris Kirke and the head of Bombardier in Belfast Michael Ryan.

Other businesses at Downing Street for yesterday's hour-long meeting included Norbrook Laboratories, Coca-Cola HBC, MJM Marine, Derry Refrigerated Transport, Irwin's Bakery, Wilson's Country, Manfrieght and Woodside Haulage.

The CBI NI, Ulster Farmers Union and NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry were also in attendance.

After the meeting, Mr Kelly said: "We need a deal. To crash out in 130 days or so, that's catastrophic to the Northern Ireland economy and catastrophic as well to the rest of the UK. So no deal is not an option, first.

"The second thing is that the future relationship is where this will be won for the UK, but to get there we need the withdrawal agreement. We would hope that not just the DUP, but all parties in Parliament, would rally around this withdrawal agreement, rally around the political declaration and let's move on to a more positive, substantive future relationship conversation."

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Seamus Leheny of the Freight Transport Association tweeted that Mrs May was given a "spontaneous round of applause from all in the room".

Aodhan Connolly of the NI Retail Consortium said businesses made their views known.

He said: "The only good thing to come from Brexit has been the collegiate nature of business groups coming together. It's unprecedented and questions have to be asked why it's unprecedented. It's because we're not only thinking about our businesses, we're thinking about jobs and households."

Moy Park, which employs around 6,300 people in Northern Ireland, is among the major firms who have yet to make their position on the draft Brexit deal public.

Mrs May told delegates: "Taken together - the draft withdrawal agreement and the broad terms of our new relationship - should provide your businesses with the reassurance that I know is so important to you.

"That's a transition period to avoid a cliff-edge for businesses and to provide the certainty you need to invest. An outline relationship that creates a new free trade area with the EU, with no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions.

"And no hard border within the island of Ireland."

The number of businesses publicly opposing the agreement so far remains small. Irwin Armstrong of Ballymena medical testing firm Ciga Healthcare has said he fears it will hinder Northern Ireland's ability to strike overseas trade deals.

On Wednesday Arlene Foster said David Boyd of marine fishing firm Rockabill NI had expressed "real worry" about the deal.

But yesterday engineering firm Terex, which employs 1,700 people here, and Coca-Cola HBC endorsed the draft Brexit agreement.

Coca-Cola HBC said it "fully supports the views of business organisations in Northern Ireland, which have welcomed the draft EU/UK withdrawal agreement".

US-owned engineering giant Terex said: "For the benefit of our industry, our customers and our employees, we agree with many of our industry representatives that a deal is better than no deal at all.

"The EU withdrawal agreement allows for a transition period during which a comprehensive UK/EU agreement on future relations can be negotiated, to hopefully include frictionless trade for companies both north-south and east-west."

Belfast Telegraph