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Gatwick Airport boss Sir Roy: There's more to be gained remaining in Europe

By Margaret Canning

Sir Roy McNulty, chairman of Gatwick Airport and one of Northern Ireland's best-known business exports, has said he's in favour of staying in the EU.

The former chairman and chief executive of Bombardier Shorts in Belfast said aviation policy in particular would be set back by a Brexit.

The Donegal-born industrialist, who's chairman of veterinary pharmaceutical firm Norbrook Holdings in Newry, said: "I think the UK gains a lot from access to the Single Market - which is why we went into it in the first place."

He said his perspective was informed by his experience of aviation, which he said was a sector which had "benefited immensely" from the EU open skies initiative to encourage low-cost air travel.

"If you look at the phenomenal growth in aviation over the last 20 to 25 years, it coincides with the open skies initiative.

"Before open skies, there was no Ryanair, no easyJet - and look at the mobility those airlines have afforded everybody."

He said he recognised the strength of feeling around a Brexit but said there was still no strong economic reason to leave.

"There is a perspective in England that leaving the EU would leave us more in charge of our affairs. And most people agree that at times the EU and how it operates can be infuriating but the economic realities - and from an aviation point of view - mean there's no reason to leave. There's a lot to be gained from staying in and a lot of downsides to leaving."

And he said that Norbrook, his main business interest here, had gained from the Single Market.

"The growth of Norbrook from the early 1970s has coincided with the Single Market. Europe is 20 to 25% of our sales, and taking that out would not be a good thing.

"People complain about EU regulation but regulation of a sector like animal health is a good thing and without it, you would have to have UK regulation. It just means animal health is uniform throughout the EU and that gives us access to European markets.

"Animal health also depends much upon the agriculture sector, and that sector in Northern Ireland doesn't see much upside from Brexit."

Norbrook chief Liam Nagle has said he is strongly in favour of staying in the EU.

"First of all, we have to look at the facts - that 80% of our sales come from outside the UK and Ireland. And £50m of our sales come from EU members, and we are very dependent on free movement over the border," he said.

Sir Roy, an accountant, worked for Chrysler in Scotland before joining Harland and Wolff in Belfast as their first management accountant. He then moved to Shorts - now Bombardier Aerospace - as financial director, becoming managing director in 1988 and later, chairman.

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