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Northern Ireland at risk of serious harm from Brexit, warns expert

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland people and business are at a serious disadvantage as Brexit looms without a functioning administration, it has been claimed.

Ahead of a dinner last night with Secretary of State James Brokenshire, Pinsent Masons partner Guy Loughey said a hard exit from the EU was looking increasingly likely.

Mr Loughey, head of Brexit advisory at the international practice, which has a large office in Belfast, warned that the absence of a devolved government put the province at risk of significant disadvantage.

Northern Ireland has been tipped as the region with the most to lose from a hard Brexit because it is the only part of the UK that shares a border with an EU country.

Mr Loughey dismissed hopes that any part of the UK, including Northern Ireland, could retain access to elements of the EU after quitting the bloc.

"It's not feasible for certain sectors or parts of the UK, such as Northern Ireland, to stay in the single market," he said.

He also confirmed that his company was advising its corporate clients on a number of scenarios that could emerge after Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50, which she has said she will activate before the end of march.

"Our clients are carrying out wargames based on the possibilities," Mr Loughey said.

The Pinsent Masons partner stressed that Northern Ireland's fate was a not strong priority for central government, with each separate region instead having its own priorities.

"There is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that when negotiations take place, there is sufficient thought given to the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland," he said, adding that the crisis in power-sharing was coming at a time when "politicians need to engage closely with Westminster to assure they have sufficient input".

The firm has launched an artificial intelligence system to help clients identify Brexit-related risk in existing portfolios, address the risk in future contracts and make more strategic decisions.

Mr Loughey said: "Brexit has created huge uncertainty, disrupting business of all shapes and sizes. But that disruption also creates an opportunity for business advisors willing to invest and innovate.

"Unprecedented challenges call for new thinking. That's why we have looked beyond traditional models with concepts such as crowd-sourcing and artificial intelligence."

Belfast Telegraph