Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Northern Ireland business sector dismisses Boris Johnson's 'unworkable and unpalatable' EU proposals

Business concerns: Tina McKenzie
Business concerns: Tina McKenzie
Ann McGregor
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal offer has been described as "unworkable" by business leaders.

The Prime Minister announced his plan yesterday, which, he says, will ensure Northern Ireland leaves the EU customs union and is compatible with the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Johnson's five-point letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also requested confirmation of support for long-standing areas of UK-Ireland collaboration, the potential creation of an all-Ireland regulatory zone, and the so-called Stormont lock.

This allows those affected by the all-Ireland zone - the Stormont Assembly - to endorse the plan, and look at it again every four years.

Responding to the Prime Minister's proposals, Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Mr Johnson's comments regarding customs checks at or near the border "infers friction on all sides".

"It is not a situation conducive to business growth, export and private sector employment," she said. "It is imperative that it [customs checks] does not happen even for a time-limited period. Businesses are telling us that the potential increased costs will seriously damage business supply lines, and indeed business survival."

Aodhan Connolly, director of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the proposals were hugely disappointing, adding that Mr Johnson had not listened to the needs of Northern Ireland's businesses or households.

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"Customs and alignment puts in place additional sets of borders, preventing Northern Ireland's unfettered access to both the EU and Great Britain market which has always been the aim for business," Mr Connolly added.

"This will lead to complexity, delays, tariffs, VAT and cost rises that will make Northern Ireland goods less competitive and squeeze our household budgets.

"In short, these proposals are unworkable and unpalatable."

Tina McKenzie, the Federation of Small Businesses NI's policy chair, said the five-point plan falls well short of working for small businesses.

"While there are mentions of exemptions for small businesses we need to see further detail on how these would practically operate," she said.

"It is crucial that the final Brexit deal delivers for small businesses, by allowing them to continue to prosper and create jobs and wealth in communities.

"We are happy to engage constructively with UK Government and the EU to suggest how these proposals can be improved in the coming days and weeks, especially in the absence of ministers at Stormont to speak up for the needs of local business."

Belfast Telegraph