Business bodies offer cautious welcome to UK's Brexit proposals
Business groups in Northern Ireland have given a guarded welcome to the publication of the Government's long-awaited White Paper on Brexit.
Released after a tumultuous week for Prime Minister Theresa May, the document finally sets out the UK's proposals for its future relationship with the EU when it comes to trade and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The White Paper seeks a scenario where goods crossing the border would not have to be checked for customs or compliance standards.
Aspiring to promises for a 'frictionless' border and acknowledging the DUP's demand for no border in the Irish Sea, the paper proposes a free trade area between the UK and EU.
If accepted, it will see the UK continuing to harmonise with EU rules and, crucially for major companies like Bombardier, which makes wings for the A220 aircraft in Belfast, it would see the continued participation in agencies overseeing sectors such as aerospace parts, medicines and chemicals.
The White Paper also appears to safeguard the continuation of the all-island Single Electricity Market.
Glyn Roberts, the chief executive of Retail NI, said that while it was "far from perfect, it was a step forward and does represent a more realistic basis for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations".
Mr Roberts added: "In our meetings with British and Irish government ministers and with Michel Barnier a few months ago, we made it clear that any Brexit solution must ensure no border in Ireland or between these islands in the interest of our economy and the hundreds of thousands of people across Northern Ireland who work in our businesses."
Director-general of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce John McGrane described the paper as "a set of serious constructive proposals which deserve detailed consideration by the EU in the negotiations ahead".
He added: "Clearly there are many elements which will need refinement, but the basis for a workable outcome are now on the table.
"The proposed free trade in goods is vital for all, especially our shared agri-food sector. But we cannot afford to end free trade in all services simply because some sectors might reject the EU's rules."