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Leaving customs union and single market ‘dangerous for Northern Ireland business’

By John Mulgrew

A hard Brexit would lead to a "clear and present danger" for local businesses, an expert has claimed. John Fahey, senior economist with AIB, said Northern Ireland risked becoming more isolated from Europe and more dependent on the UK market.

Mr Fahey, who was speaking to dozens of business leaders during an event at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast hosted by First Trust, added that key sectors such as agri-food, manufacturing and tourism were particularly vulnerable to a hard Brexit.

Such an arrangement would likely see the UK giving up full access to both the single market and customs union.

Also speaking at the event was Mark McKeown, from First Trust, who also voiced concern about the future.

"While the economic forecast is for Northern Ireland to avoid recession in 2017 as consumers continue to provide support for economic growth, the key issue for both businesses and policy makers remains whether our strengths are sufficient to navigate the uncharted waters brought about by Brexit," he said.

"While we have particular reasons to be worried here in Northern Ireland, and indeed on the island of Ireland, we continue to see our customers remaining resilient and indeed cautiously optimistic.

"Against this backdrop of uncertainty, it is important we bring as much clarity to the concerns of businesses as possible."

Meanwhile, salaries for workers in the professional services sector in Northern Ireland will, according to a report, "continue to perform strongly in the face of uncertainties presented by the UK exit from the EU".

The survey by Abacus Professional Recruitment of 500 workers in 10 sectors showed almost 53% of employees in law, accountancy, compliance, sales IT and insurance received a pay rise last year, with the average increase 7.4%.

The Abacus survey also stressed that ongoing inward investment in Northern Ireland had "boosted the local economy and resulted in the growth and diversity of job roles."

And despite uncertainties in the political environment, 80% of workers expected their salaries to rise this year.

Abacus Professional Recruitment director Justin Rush said: "The research highlights that the professional service labour market in Northern Ireland remains resilient, and skilled professionals are in high demand within growing sectors.

"Total compensation packages, including salary increases and benefits, continue to perform strongly on the back of continued foreign direct investment from some of the world's leading companies in areas including law, technology and finance."

Belfast Telegraph

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