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Hotels sector divided over Brexit, warns industry body's Northern Ireland chief as EU looms

By Margaret Canning

Hoteliers in Northern Ireland are split on the question of whether or not a Brexit would be good for business, it has been claimed.

Janice Gault, the head of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said opinion was so divided that the organisation would not be campaigning on either side of the historic vote in June.

Ms Gault spoke as research from Dublin-based stockbroker Davy on the impact of a Brexit said uncertainty over the vote could diminish the positive impact of Northern Ireland's future 12.5% corporation tax rate, set to be introduced in April 2018.

Davy's research added: "Uncertainty on the UK's future membership of the EU would undermine the potential benefits of Northern Ireland's independent corporation tax rate.

"Attracting foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland would clearly be problematic with access to the EU single market at risk."

Ms Gault told the Belfast Telegraph that a Brexit could throw up issues for tourism as Northern Ireland and the Republic are currently marketed overseas as a single destination by cross-border body Tourism Ireland.

And she said hoteliers who were on the Leave side of the argument did not wish to be identified but were fervent in their anti-EU views.

However, two prominent hoteliers - Bill Wolsey, owner of the Merchant Hotel Beannchor Group, and Lord Rana of Andras Hotels - have both said that they are strongly in favour of staying in the EU.

But Ms Gault added the 100-strong membership was torn on the issue.

She said: "It's going to be a very difficult question for people.

"Our membership is split - I might be talking to two hoteliers, and on the one hand, one will tell me that they want to leave the EU, but the other will tell me what they want to stay.

"There really is a mix of opinions about it.

"And because of that, as a federation we won't be coming out on one side or the other. People are also adamant in how they feel about it and will hold their view 100%."

Those who are in favour of leaving, "feel it is an opportunity to change things and move away from EU rules," Ms Gault added.

Meanwhile, research by Davy has warned that the Republic of Ireland could be harmed by a Brexit.

The report said: "While severe trade disruption would only occur in the worst-case Brexit scenarios, the key risk for Ireland is that productivity and UK GDP growth are hurt over the long-term by an exit from the EU."

Davy said that Northern Ireland accounted for just 1.6% of goods exported by the Republic to the UK.

But the report said Northern Ireland's trade with the Republic had increased, with the Republic now claiming nearly one-third of the province's exports.

It added: "So, the imposition of non-tariff barriers could be particularly costly for Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph