Business chiefs call on MPs to back deal at London meeting
Business leaders from Northern Ireland have returned to Westminster to voice their backing for the draft EU withdrawal agreement ahead of Tuesday's crucial vote by MPs.
The visit, which was organised by the Northern Ireland Office, involved meetings between the business groups and MPs from five parties.
The groups included Manufacturing NI, the NI Meat Exporters Association, Freight Transport Association NI, Ulster Farmers Union, CBI NI, NI Retail Consortium (NIRC), CO3, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and Co Tyrone engineering firm CDE Global.
Most of those who travelled were part of the delegation who met with Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street last month.
Speaking after the meetings, NIRC director Aodhan Connolly, who represents the major supermarkets here, said: "It was hugely important for both business and civic society to be here in Westminster to meet with politicians of all hues at this crucial time in the Brexit debate.
"Political parties must listen to the evidence and vote on the information they have at their disposal.
"Retailers can and have explained the disaster scenario of a no-deal Brexit for Northern Ireland businesses and households. This deal is not perfect but it does give clarity, transition and confidence to our industry.
"With half the discretionary income of GB households and already higher costs, we cannot afford to absorb the catastrophic cost rises that a cliff edge no deal would bring.
He added: "If politicians are to say 'not this deal' then we must hear clear and immediate alternative solutions. The Brexit clock is ticking loudly and Northern Ireland needs certainty."
The Northern Ireland delegation also met with Secretary of State Karen Bradley, who has been among the cabinet members trying to rally support for the withdrawal deal.
Today, she will announce £700,000 in funding from the government's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for Co Antrim medical testing company Randox. The funding is to pay for research into technology to enables tests to be manufactured more quickly - which Ms Bradley said would lead to more manufacturing jobs.
Yesterday, she said she had been speaking to MPs to explain the benefits of the withdrawal deal.
The Government yesterday published the full legal advice it received from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox on the withdrawal deal after MPs found ministers in contempt of Parliament for only providing a legal overview.
The advice suggested that the backstop could last "indefinitely" and the UK could not "lawfully exit" without EU agreement.
The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the full document had vindicated the party's position on the backstop provision within the agreement.