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Northern Ireland must fight its corner to get best EU deal, says new CBI boss McGowan

By John Mulgrew

New CBI regional director Angela McGowan has said she accepts the vote to leave the EU, but will fight to ensure Northern Ireland "doesn't get carried along on the coat-tails" of negotiations.

Ms McGowan, who campaigned to remain in the EU, was speaking for the first time since taking over as regional director, replacing Nigel Smyth who had been in the post for 26 years.

She says it is "essential" that an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains, and insists she will "bring the story from Northern Ireland to make sure it's being heard" in EU negotiations.

However, the former Danske Bank chief economist concedes there are now "more questions than answers" around what will happen after Brexit.

"For this Brexit issue, it's all being negotiated from the UK, so it's really important that we have our message across there, from local businesses," she said.

"We are still in the situation, since June, where there are more questions than answers.

"For us, it's looking at the realities of how this will hit the Northern Ireland business community and making sure we are well aware of every obstacle that will be put in the way of growth, that we work to try and resolve that for them.

"You would hope to also pull out any opportunities as well.

"I think it's really trying to concentrate on the issues which will be most impacted by this (Brexit)."

That includes border issues, pushing policy makers and ensuring there remains an open border with the Republic.

Ms McGowan said "it's about trying to tease out the unique situations" which Northern Ireland's business community faces as a result of Brexit.

"They have to bear us in mind, that we don't get carried along on the coat-tails," added Ms McGowan. "I think what we are pushing for is to keep our relationship as close to the EU, as much as we could potentially.

"It's because we are a very different economy.

"I think it's about making the UK recognise that there are specific challenges for Northern Ireland."

And on concerns about a cut-off of infrastructure funding from the EU, Ms McGowan said: "It's not the only show in town," adding that "there's no doubt" investment will be affected by the vote to leave.

Ms McGowan said reports that Westminster would cut the UK rate of corporation tax as low as 10% to maintain its attractiveness post-Brexit would "clearly" change the "dynamic" of Northern Ireland's plans to lower its own rate to 12.5%.

Ms McGowan, while supporting a reduction, said: "It is only part of the package".

Ms McGowan also says she wants to see more women going into business.

"I think in the business community, there isn't a discrimination as to whether it's man or a woman," she said.

"There is room for a whole lot more (women in business).

"I go to speak at a lot of events, and I can tell you there are a lot of men in the audience, relative to females.

"It would be nice to see more females out there."

Belfast Telegraph