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Northern Ireland business and trade bodies in final push against no-deal Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street yesterday
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street yesterday
Westminster will hold its meaningful Brexit vote tonight
James Hookham

By Ryan McAleer

Businesses and trade bodies have continued their pleas for the Government and MPs to avoid a no-deal Brexit scenario in the hope of providing some certainty for Northern Ireland firms.

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Ahead of three crucial votes taking place in the House of Commons this week, the business community has made one last push to avoid leaving the EU on March 29 without a deal in place.

Last night Prime Minister Theresa May flew to Strasbourg for last-ditch talks with senior EU officials in the hope of securing some concessions to win back enough support from Brexiteer MPs ahead of tonight's 'meaningful vote' in the House of Commons.

If that effort fails, MPs are expected to vote on whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal in place.

Over the weekend dozens of Northern Ireland's biggest companies, including banks and major manufacturers, signed an open CBI letter to MPs, stating that a no-deal Brexit will "result in significant damage to our export markets, supply chains, consumer spending power and the region's competitiveness".

Now today, the body representing the UK's logistics industry has written an open letter to Theresa May, claiming that a no-deal Brexit would mean the Prime Minister breaking a promise made in January 2017 to keep trade as frictionless as possible.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which represents more than 17,000 businesses, has also issued the letter to MPs, urging them "to consider the needs of those tasked with keeping the UK trading and understand the costs and disruption of a no-deal departure from the EU on the UK economy, both in the short-term and the long-run".

FTA's deputy chief executive, James Hookham, said: "Whatever the final outcome of Tuesday's vote, and those later this week, the logistics industry needs sufficient time to learn, adapt to and implement the necessary operational processes to comply with the announced procedures.

"With just over two weeks to go until the UK's proposed departure from the EU, it is worrying that we still have so much to clarify."

Meanwhile, the Utility Regulator for Northern Ireland has said that trade in electricity and gas across interconnectors will continue even in a no-deal scenario.

But the regulator has warned dealing in power will almost certainly be less efficient because the UK will no longer be part of a key European market.

"Every sector of the Northern Ireland business community is speaking with one very clear voice on Brexit - we need a deal," said chief executive of Retail NI, Glyn Roberts last night.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Westminster today to engage with ministers and members of the Shadow Government, the retail spokesman said: "The outcome of today's vote will have huge consequences for Northern Ireland and the future of our economy.

"Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be disastrous for our retail sector, causing delays in the supply chain, food shortages and potential higher prices for consumers.

'We need to see the House of Commons show real leadership for the UK and secure a cross-party deal.

"If a delay in Article 50 is needed for more time to secure a deal, then the Government should seek this from the EU," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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