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Northern Ireland business at 'critical point' in influence on Brexit

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland business is at a critical point in making its voice heard in the debate over Brexit, the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs has said. Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney told businesspeople they could wield influence on Brexit negotiations, during an event hosted by the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Belfast yesterday.

But the Chamber's president Ellvena Graham also urged the Minister to encourage politicians in Northern Ireland to get back to powersharing for the benefit of the economy.

Mr Coveney said: "The voice of business is vital in the debate on Brexit and dealing with its impact on Northern Ireland.

"And we are at a critical juncture now in terms of making that voice heard."

The Minister said the best position for the continuation of seamless cross-border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic was for the UK to stay in the customs union and single market.

Mr Coveney commented: "Our current border arrangement has been a vital part of our shared peace, just as it has been a critical facilitator of Northern Ireland's £3.6bn of exports to Ireland annually.

"This is more than a third of all Northern Ireland exports. The best way to ensure we preserve the kind of border arrangements that have served us so well is for the UK and Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union and single market."

The Minister added: "Businesses in Northern Ireland should not underestimate their influence at this time. I'm pleased to have a chance to hear the views of leading businesswomen and men in Northern Ireland, but I hope these views also resonate in Belfast, London and Brussels over the coming weeks."

The Minister was making his first address to businesses in Northern Ireland since taking the Foreign Affairs job earlier in the summer.

Ellvena Graham said businesses in Northern Ireland faced a "challenging time". "Because many of our businesses export to Ireland, or operate on an all-island basis, many firms here are rightly concerned about the impact of Brexit and, as a Chamber, our priority must therefore be around protecting the all-island market and supply chain.

"The free movement of goods - and also people - across the border is essential to the success of Northern Ireland's economy."

She added: "For too long now, our members have had to work with a non-functioning NI Executive which makes it very challenging for business and wider society.

"I ask that Minister Coveney does all that he can to encourage our politicians to come to an agreement and get back to work for the good of the Northern Ireland economy."

Meanwhile, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a fresh rebuke to Prime Minister Theresa May over the handling of Brexit, and said official papers setting out the Government's positions were not satisfactory.

Belfast Telegraph