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New MPs told to protect NI from potential Brexit damage

People watch as the BBC’s exit poll results are projected on the outside of one of its buildings on Thursday night. The Tories were predicted to win 368 seats but finished with 365
People watch as the BBC’s exit poll results are projected on the outside of one of its buildings on Thursday night. The Tories were predicted to win 368 seats but finished with 365
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's new MPs have been urged to "stand up for Northern Ireland" and focus on mitigating the potential effects of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

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And business groups said the results of the general election made a swift return to devolved government even more crucial, with the Assembly able to exert influence on future trading arrangements.

The election result and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 80-seat majority makes Brexit at the end of January an almost-certainty - but the NI Chamber of Commerce said the win shouldn't be used to push through a deal that's disruptive to business.

Along with other business bodies, the NI Chamber has criticised the withdrawal deal negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October for introducing restrictions on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said the election result does bring some stability to the economy.

But Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber, said: "This election result is a vote to end paralysis, not a mandate to force through a deal that would be disruptive to business.

"The business community will be calling on the Prime Minister to provide swift certainty about what Brexit means and time to prepare for and implement it.

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"The Prime Minister's current deal, which effectively gives Northern Ireland two borders, should be a concern for all of us - not just business leaders and employers.

"Politicians from all parties, and anyone with a vested interest in the Northern Ireland economy, need to recognise the major risks to business growth and job creation and the serious consequences for young people seeking a career in Northern Ireland."

She said firms had been held back by Brexit uncertainty, resulting in mediocre economic growth.

She added: "It is very important that our representatives in Westminster stand up for Northern Ireland and that the upcoming talks process results in the immediate return of an Executive at Stormont."

The Ulster Farmers' Union said it welcomed the certainty brought by the result, but said Northern Ireland must now be involved in negotiations "to ensure that the UK's exit from the EU supports agriculture and the food industry allowing it to thrive, and above all, the future prosperity of family farm businesses in Northern Ireland".

Seamus Leheny, the Northern Ireland director of the Freight Transport Association, said: "A significant majority of MPs from NI will now be against Brexit.

"Their focus must be on mitigating the effects of the impending withdrawal agreement and Irish protocol for NI trade."

Stephen Kelly, the head of Manufacturing NI, said the deal was going to bring barriers to Northern Ireland's trade with Great Britain. "It is critical that our new MPs work together to derogate, mitigate and legislate to protect our place in the UK's internal market.

"Do that and we can benefit from continuing to have tariff, quota and customs-free access to the EU market.

"More locally, the message to all the parties is that we want them to work together at Westminster but particularly get Stormont back up and running."

Tina McKenzie of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Northern Ireland, said the election sent a message to the main parties here, the DUP and Sinn Fein, that it was time to return to devolved government in Stormont. Next month will mark the third anniversary of the institution's collapse.

She said: "In advance of the election, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, set out a timetable for convening talks which will lead either to the reinstatement of the Executive early in the new year, or to a fresh Assembly election.

"Against this backdrop, the results of this week's general election look to be sending both of the main parties a clear message that Northern Ireland wants to see the parties overcome the difficulties that have kept them out of office for far too long and get back to business."

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