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Theresa May Northern Ireland visit: Business chiefs still seek 'clarity' on the key issues

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland business groups called for an end to "brinkmanship" between the EU and the UK government in Brexit talks as Prime Minister Theresa May continued her two-day visit to the province.

And while welcoming Mrs May's trip here, many said they still required more detail on the contents of the UK White Paper proposal and how it would provide for cross-border trade.

Aodhan Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, said: "It is very encouraging that the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland to listen and to understand the concerns of business, on maintaining a common rulebook over goods and agri-foods and how the UK Government cannot simply "wash its hands" of the matter.

"But we need more than kind words, beginning with greater clarity on how the UK White Paper proposal on customs will work for businesses and how we can avoid extra border red tape and higher costs for firms and consumers around VAT and excise on goods moving across the Irish border.

"We need an end to the brinkmanship from both the UK government and the EU, a realisation that the practicalities of Brexit will affect Northern Ireland like nowhere else in the UK, and above all a fair deal on Brexit for the consumers of Northern Ireland."

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said its policy chair Tina McKenzie had questioned the Prime Minister about the White Paper proposals following Mrs May's speech at Waterfront Hall, in which she also called for an urgent restoration of power-sharing.

Ms McKenzie (left) said: "It was welcome that the Prime Minister has visited Northern Ireland this week. As we share a land border with another EU state, it is absolutely crucial that the final Brexit deal works for businesses here. FSB welcomed a direction being set through the White Paper on the future relationship with the EU. However, questions still remain on the details of the vision which was set out.

"For example, how will cross-border trade, which our members consider local, be affected if we leave the EU VAT regime? I was glad to have the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about the status of the small business exemption for North-South trade, as proposed in previous position papers.

"It was a welcome statement that she intends to avoid friction completely via the new customs plan, however it remains to be seen how smaller firms will be able to obtain 'trusted trader status' to ensure no additional customs issues.

"For small businesses in Northern Ireland to make preparations for the future trading environment, it is detailed questions such as these which require answers. Engagement with business groups to flesh out the detail of these proposals is critical."

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