Belfast Telegraph

Take care before you rip up EU deal

Business leaders warn Cameron not to forget UK's only land border

By David Elliott

For the sake of the Northern Ireland economy the Prime Minister needs to tread carefully when it comes to the UK's relationship with the European Union, but a future referendum on the issue is a good idea, according to Northern Ireland's business leaders.

Their comments follow David Cameron's call for a fundamental change in the UK's relationship with Europe and a promise from the Prime Minister of a vote on whether to remain in the EU within five years.

They said that because our biggest trading partner the Republic is also our closest neighbour, and because our future prosperity rests on a growing export sector, Northern Ireland is particularly dependent on an efficient relationship with Europe.

But the likes of overregulation and other impediments to trade need to be ironed out if the relationship is to flourish.

"A future referendum to decide the workings of our relationship will confirm our participation in a competitive, deregulated, free-market Europe," the Chairman of the Institute of Directors NI Mervyn McCall said. "With a number of members exporting, mainly to the EU, it is in all of our interests for that trading relationship to continue - which I have no doubt it will."

Ann McGregor MBE (right), Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce said access to the European market is critical to businesses in Northern Ireland. but not at any cost.

She said David Cameron's decision to look for a new deal with Europe is the right course of action.

"However, it is important to consider the implications for Northern Ireland from a trade perspective," she said.

"For example the Republic of Ireland is our most important export partner and we have a lot to lose.

"In addition he should also give consideration to ensuring that there is consistency in the interpretation of European directives so that they are in line with their original intention and not as interpreted by lawyers."

The CBI, which hosted Bank of England governor Mervyn King at its annual dinner on Tuesday night, also said the EU single market is essential for the UK's future success but pointed out that closer membership of the Eurozone is not an option.

"The Prime Minister rightly recognises the benefits of retaining membership of what must be a reformed EU and the CBI will work closely with government to get the best deal for Britain."

Nigel Smyth, regional director for CBI Northern Ireland, added: "The future of the UK's position within Europe is of critical importance to Northern Ireland."

He said we are the only region within the UK with a land border with another member state and that the Republic accounted for £1.2bn of sales in 2010/11, over one fifth of our total manufacturing exports.