Belfast Telegraph

CBI: Business community is desperate to move on after long negotiations

By Angela McGowan, Regional Director CBI NI

The CBI, along with all other business representatives across NI and civic society, have over the last week voiced our broad support for the Prime Minister's EU Withdrawal Agreement, which, if signed off by the UK, allows us to move on to the real negotiations around future trade. There have been 20 months of negotiations since Article 50 was triggered. What we have on the table now is a compromise withdrawal deal that while not perfect, is a step forward.

The UK government is aiming for a future trade deal with the EU that will hopefully ensure that borders and checks are not needed. However, November's Withdrawal Agreement could only be signed off if a 'back-stop' arrangement for NI was included. The EU, the UK and the Irish government all concede that a hard border in NI is not acceptable and thus the agreed back-stop is an insurance policy measure only.

This guarantee also gives a degree of assurance to the 7,400 firms in NI that trade on a north-south basis. Simultaneously, the back-stop, if ever needed, would allow NI firms unfettered access to the GB market.

If ratified, the Withdrawal Agreement would take the prospect of a cliff edge no-deal Brexit off the table. It would unlock the transition period which provides companies with a further 21 months to adjust to any new arrangements. This is important because most companies are simply not ready for dramatic changes on March 30 next year.

After prolonged negotiations the business community is now desperate to move on and build on this progress. There is no appetite to go back to square one. Continued Brexit uncertainty is already affecting investment, resulting in changes to companies' supply chains, and in some instances, jobs moving.

Stockpiling has already begun. Furthermore, valuable investment that should have come here has not arrived. The business community believes this is the moment when we all must compromise to achieve progress. Business leaders are realists and pragmatists.

They desperately want to focus on the domestic policy agenda, such as skills and infrastructure to increase our productivity growth and raise living standards for all.

Belfast Telegraph

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