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Northern Ireland business sector urges new Secretary of State to heed its concerns over Brexit

Meetings: Julian Smith
Meetings: Julian Smith
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Business leaders have greeted the appointment of Julian Smith as new Northern Ireland Secretary of State by urging the former Conservative Party chief whip to make sure their Brexit concerns are heard in Westminster.

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Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said Mr Smith was taking on the role in "probably the most precarious situation in Northern Ireland for 20 years".

The retail leader said: "He must continue to push the political parties in NI to find a way to get back to government and he must ensure that NI business and consumers are protected from the spectre of leaving the EU without a deal.

"We urge him to meet with us as soon as is possible so we can support him to get an understanding of the issues facing our industry and NI households."

Kirsty McManus, director of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland, said: "Given our unique circumstances in Northern Ireland in terms of our vulnerability to the impact of a no-deal Brexit, we will seek an early meeting with Julian as we work to convey the concerns of local business leaders on this and other key issues, including skills and productivity."

Trade NI, the new alliance formed by Retail NI, Manufacturing NI and Hospitality Ulster, greeted the announcement of the new Secretary of State by calling for "a reboot" of economic policy in Northern Ireland.

"With much-needed decisions not being made on reform of business rates and infrastructure investment, not addressing an ever-growing skills gap and modernisation of our town centres, Northern Ireland is not just lagging behind the rest of the UK and Ireland, it is in real danger of being left behind," said the body.

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Londonderry Chamber of Commerce president Brian McGrath said he hoped to see "immediate, committed engagement to deal with the looming spectre of a no-deal Brexit".

Stating that a no-deal Brexit would be "catastrophic" for border regions, he said: "The effects of Brexit will be very acutely felt here so it is imperative that our voice is heard in Westminster and a deal is struck with the EU to guarantee an orderly exit."

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said the drinks body would seek a meeting with Julian Smith at the earliest opportunity.

"He needs to understand right from the start that we must not leave the EU without a deal; the restoration of the Assembly and Executive is paramount; and reform of the outdated property-based UK rating system is needed as it is now broken and crippling our members' businesses," he said

Meanwhile, Derek McCallan, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, greeted Julian Smith's appointment as Karen Bradley's successor with a call for the new NI Secretary to prioritise devolving greater powers and resources to local councils.

"Local government needs greater finances, powers and resources to best meet the demand from citizens - and from wider government - as well as fulfil their vital functions efficiently under fiscal strain," he said.

Belfast Telegraph