Increased concern for Northern Ireland economy after Brexit deal delay
Business leaders cite 'fear and frustration' at PM's decision
Northern Ireland business leaders have warned that the decision to postpone today's crucial vote on the EU withdrawal deal will cause more instability for the economy and firms here.
Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons yesterday that the resistance to the backstop provision for the Irish border within the deal had left her little choice but to defer the vote until she made efforts to address the concerns.
It's understood she will seek some concessions on the backstop when speaking to EU leaders later in the week.
The move prompted the pound to slump to $1.255, its lowest level since April 2017.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "While it was very clear that the Prime Minister would have lost the vote on the draft deal, its postponement and more negotiations with EU causes ever more instability for the economy and the business community."
He said there's real concern among the business community that the stalemate is edging the UK closer to a no-deal scenario.
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber, said the frustration among businesses continues to grow.
"Many business leaders will be extremely frustrated by yet another delay in this drawn-out process, which impacts real-world business conditions, not least currency markets," she said.
"Businesses are clear that time is rapidly running out. With just over 100 days to go until March 29, many are already enacting contingency plans in the absence of clarity from Westminster."
Ms McGregor said recent research by NI Chamber indicated that 37% of its members were actively scaling down or freezing growth plans because of Brexit.
"Even basic business planning for next year has become difficult, if not impossible, for many firms and their investors," she said. "Businesses are clear that they do not want a messy and disorderly exit, which both government and far too many firms are under-prepared for."
Stephen Kelly, who represents Manufacturing NI, said its members watched yesterday's developments with growing concern.
"Each are worried, many are angry. The country is clearly divided, Parliament even more so. Yet, apart from the withdrawal agreement, nothing else is real.
"If a better deal is available, it has yet to be articulated, nevermind negotiated, and we have no idea if it is practical and workable for the businesses who have to pay wages this Friday and every week beyond March 29, 2019.
"We need a deal and we need it now so we can avoid a disastrous no-deal outcome, bank the transition period and get on to the more important long-term future relationship negotiations."
Aodhan Connolly of the NI Retail Consortium said any delay to securing an agreement was "extremely concerning".
"With just three months to go until the UK leaves the EU, it is imperative to retailers in Northern Ireland that they get clarity about their future trading relationship with our neighbours," he said.
"A no-deal outcome would result in higher costs, harming consumers in NI who already suffer from having half the discretionary spending power of those in the rest of the UK. Parliament must urgently find a workable proposal to avoid a cliff-edge no-deal scenario. The Brexit clock is ticking loudly."
Tina McKenzie, who chairs Northern Ireland's biggest business organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses, said while the draft Agreement was "far from perfect", she said it had offered assurance for continuity of trading beyond March 29.
She said any improvements to the deal would be welcomed.
"However, the latest moves increase the risk of a no-deal Brexit, which is regarded by businesses as the most damaging outcome. We have clearly moved into a significantly more uncertain period which will doubtless cause concern amongst the whole business community," she added.
Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said last night: "We are following developments in Parliament very closely, but as previously stated, 74% of our members support the current withdrawal agreement rather than crashing out without a deal."