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I wouldn't choose the uncertainty caused by Brexit, says bank chief

By Margaret Canning

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) chairman Sir Howard Davies has told a Balmoral Show event that he "wouldn't choose" the economic uncertainty posed by next month's EU referendum.

Sir Howard spoke at a lunch for the agri-food industry hosted by RBS subsidiary Ulster Bank - the title sponsor of the show for the eighth year in a row.

Lunch was attended by many of Northern Ireland's best-known food companies, including Moy Park, Linden Foods, Dunbia, Mash Direct and Finnebrogue.

Sir Howard praised the achievements of food companies in Northern Ireland.

But the businessman - who also headed up the Airports Commission into whether Heathrow should receive a third runway - said that while RBS was "not telling people how to vote" in next month's referendum, it would not choose the economic risk of the present uncertainty.

Business surveys have been showing a slowdown in the UK economy in the run-up to next month's vote, in indicators including manufacturing, production and services.

But the audience heard that food and drink in Northern Ireland is in rude health. Richard Donnan, Ulster Bank's head in the province, said food and drink manufacturing enjoyed weekly sales of around £175m.

He said recent years had brought major challenges for farmers in the form of commodity price changes, exchange rates and other problems - but that food and drink remained a "key driver" of the Northern Ireland economy.

"Northern Ireland is blessed with fantastic natural resources and has talented people and businesses who are adding enormous value through innovation and an intimate understanding of their markets," he said.

"With the global population rising and developing countries becoming wealthier, demand for what Northern Ireland's food and drink sector produces will only grow.

"It may not feel like it to everyone now, but the current challenges will also pass and the industry is well placed to capitalise.

"Collaboration within the sector as well as with government and banks like ourselves is one of the critical components of future success, so that challenges in the food chain can be overcome, export opportunities can be maximised, and the industry can be promoted to its full potential.

"That's why I am delighted to see the Year of Food and Drink initiative this year, and I would encourage everyone in Northern Ireland to get behind it."

He said the remaining six months of the Year of Food and Drink posed an opportunity "to really build a global identity for Northern Ireland food and drink and help drive growth for many years to come".

Sir Howard told a RBS investors' meeting earlier this month that its core business did not depend "critically" on unlimited EU markets access.

According to reports this week, the Republic's foreign direct investment agency IDA has been targeting banks, including RBS, to encourage them to bring finance jobs to the Republic of Ireland, in the event of the UK leaving the EU.

The agency has been pushing towns such as Shannon, Co Clare as ideal locations.

Belfast Telegraph