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How Northern Ireland business figures felt about Brexit then... and now


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Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

Mark O’Connell, Chief executive, OCO Global

Mark O’Connell, Chief executive, OCO Global

Glyn Roberts Chief executive, Retail NI

Glyn Roberts Chief executive, Retail NI

Richard Kennedy, Chief executive, Devenish

Richard Kennedy, Chief executive, Devenish

Phillip Logan, Director, Algram Modern Living, ex-DUP MLA

Phillip Logan, Director, Algram Modern Living, ex-DUP MLA

Liam Duffy, CEO and owner, Classic Mineral Water

Liam Duffy, CEO and owner, Classic Mineral Water

Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

As Northern Ireland counts down to Brexit, business leaders tell us how they felt about the UK's exit from the EU in 2016 and now.

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Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

There is an overriding sense of dismay here

Ann McGregor, Chief executive, NI Chamber

Then: Prior to the 2016 referendum, I was much less concerned about Brexit as there was a feeling among the business community that people wouldn't vote for it.

Now: The last three years have been very divisive for business, politics and the economy. In 2020, business is still coming to terms with the result and its impact. There is an overriding sense of dismay at the situation we find ourselves in. While NI Chamber and others have been working hard to ensure the best deal for business, as the transition period begins, uncertainty about trade and export has not been addressed and companies remain in the dark on too many crucial issues.

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Mark O’Connell, Chief executive, OCO Global

Mark O’Connell, Chief executive, OCO Global

Mark O’Connell, Chief executive, OCO Global

NI in good position to take advantage

Mark O’Connell, Chief executive, OCO Global

Then: I thought it was a bad idea in 2016, and the intervening period had hardened my views. But you have to look at it from different perspectives. From the hard Right Brexiteer who felt left behind and blames immigration and European integration for their hardships then it promises a new dawn, while for the liberal elite establishment of the UK - intellectuals, artists and business leaders - it isolates and damages Britain's voice and influence in the world and access to EU funding in R&D and cultural collaboration.

Now: Most UK business lobby groups are relieved that our internal argument is coming to an end and the uncertainty that has stifled investment decisions may soon be over. Few international companies are enthused about Brexit and many have already voted with their feet and stalled investment or relocated. Northern Ireland is potentially in a very good position to take advantage of the 'one country, two systems' status it now finds itself in.

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Glyn Roberts Chief executive, Retail NI

Glyn Roberts Chief executive, Retail NI

Glyn Roberts Chief executive, Retail NI

There will be no celebrating today

Glyn Roberts Chief executive, Retail NI

Then: During that election campaign Retail NI campaigned for Remain vote.

We had expressed concern with the likely impact Brexit would have - the disruption for the economy and all that goes with it.

Now: We do have real concerns about the west-east and east-west trade for businesses, but we have to accept that Brexit is now happening and we have to make the best out of what is going to be a difficult and challenging situation.

We're halfway through the Brexit process and we still need to get a trade deal.

By no means are we out yet and our worry is getting the trade deal done in this short space of time is going to be a huge challenge.

There will certainly be no celebrating today. Our priority has to be that all of the relationships and networks we have built up over 47 years will remain. It is the world's biggest single market. While we are facing the Brexit situation with great trepidation we need a big bold radical plan for the economy and how we move forward.

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Richard Kennedy, Chief executive, Devenish

Richard Kennedy, Chief executive, Devenish

Richard Kennedy, Chief executive, Devenish

We need to ensure frictionless trade

Richard Kennedy, Chief executive, Devenish

Then: When the news came through in June 2016 that the people of the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union, my initial reaction was one of extreme disappointment. As an international company with ambitious growth plans outside of our home markets, I knew it would have a huge impact on us, and the local economy.

Now: At Devenish we have been preparing for Brexit since the result was announced. There have been many twists and turns since then and we have been monitoring the situation closely, refining those plans along the way.

Leaving the EU without a deal would have been disastrous for the agri-food industry. The Withdrawal Agreement is far from perfect, but it ends much of the uncertainty that has been a constant throughout this process.

We need to ensure that an agreement is reached between the UK and EU that maintains a frictionless trading relationship between the two.

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Phillip Logan, Director, Algram Modern Living, ex-DUP MLA

Phillip Logan, Director, Algram Modern Living, ex-DUP MLA

Phillip Logan, Director, Algram Modern Living, ex-DUP MLA

Now there is a bit more certainty

Phillip Logan, Director, Algram Modern Living, ex-DUP MLA

Then: I campaigned on a personal level to leave from the sovereignty point of view, and identity point of view. From my point of view it was mainly down to identity and having control of our own laws.

Now: It's certainly brought a little bit of uncertainty and that has had an effect on business. But Westminster messed about on the issue for too long, failing to implement what people wanted. But since Westminster moved on with Brexit, confidence has come back, and there is a bit more certainty. We haven't seen any increase in cost prices relating to Brexit. But there is still a long road ahead. However, I have no regrets. We will be more successful.

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Liam Duffy, CEO and owner, Classic Mineral Water

Liam Duffy, CEO and owner, Classic Mineral Water

Liam Duffy, CEO and owner, Classic Mineral Water

Brexit could easily have been avoided

Liam Duffy, CEO and owner, Classic Mineral Water

Then: My views are that Brexit was a very poor decision back in 2016 which was based on misinformation on the leave side and the remain side not doing enough work to ensure it didn't happen. It very easily could have been avoided.

Now: In 2020 my views have not changed. It's still a poor decision. I haven't spoken to one businessperson in the past three and a half years who is happy with Brexit, nor have I heard anybody set out the advantages in a plausible and rational manner. We're lucky to be able to source our raw materials here in Northern Ireland so we will not be relying on importing these from across the border.

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