Belfast Telegraph

NI business leaders hail Hammond as safe pair of hands for UK finances

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland business has welcomed the appointment of Philip Hammond as Chancellor of the Exchequer as a "safe pair of hands" for the economy.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said he was "exactly what the UK needs post-Brexit in terms of economic stability".

The former Foreign Secretary had campaigned on the Remain side of the recent EU referendum.

John McGrane, the chairman of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, said the appointments of a Chancellor, Brexit Minister and International Trade Minister "cleared up some of the massive uncertainties" of the last few weeks.

Brexiteers David Davis and Liam Fox have been appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and Secretary of State for International Trade respectively.

Mr McGrane said: "The new incumbents have a huge amount of work to do and we would respect that and support positive engagement on the issues - including the massive vulnerability of Northern Ireland as the UK region which we've always said is at most risk of suffering the adverse effects of Brexit."

He said the Chamber would seek to work to preserve the present regime as closely as possible, "with free trade, free movement of people, a borderless Northern Ireland and the maximum access to a single market that can be achieved".

In an interview with Sky News yesterday, Mr Hammond would not say if he was committed to his predecessor's plans to cut corporation tax to 15% or lower - a plan which could dent the impact of Northern Ireland's move to cut its rate to 12.5%.

George Osborne had already committed to cutting UK corporation tax to 17% by 2020 before making his dramatic announcement of a rate of 15% or lower last week.

PwC chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said Mr Hammond could also embrace a low-tax regime. "I think in the circumstances he will be attracted to any measures which demonstrate that the UK is open for business."

But Dr Birnie said that more crucial than the personalities of the politicians in charge of Brexit negotiations was whether the Executive could identify a coherent Northern Ireland interest.

And if the Executive could unite around a coherent Northern Ireland interest, "what then happens if the Northern Ireland interest turns out to diverge from that of the rest of the UK?"

He said the needs of the many could prevail over any special case for Northern Ireland.

Ms McGregor added: "Although Mr Hammond has not committed to progressing with the former Chancellor's proposal to reduce UK corporation tax to 15%, we still need to watch any proposals carefully, as this will ultimately have an impact on Northern Ireland's target of a 12.5% rate by April 2018."

Mervn McCall of Grow NI - a business lobby group set up to campaign for a lower rate of corporation tax for Northern Ireland, said the policy would remain in place regardless of any steps by the new Chancellor on UK-wide tax.

"We need to carve out our own future and make long term investment plans which will help us realise our economic potential and create a significant number of long term, high value added, well paid jobs."

Belfast Telegraph