Invest NI says firms here aren't ready for no-deal Brexit
The board of Invest NI has expressed "deep concern" about the readiness of businesses for a no-deal Brexit.
The economic support agency has written to the leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties, calling on them to "work collectively" to ensure the concerns of businesses here are addressed in the negotiations.
It calls for "every possible step" to "avoid the consequences which a no-deal scenario would have on the Northern Ireland business base".
It marks a departure from the neutral position Invest NI adopted in the lead-up to the 2016 EU referendum.
The agency has now said that leaving the EU without a deal in place could compromise the recent success in attracting foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland.
Invest NI chairman Mark Ennis, said yesterday: "The board of Invest NI is deeply concerned that we are now less than 60 days from exiting the EU and it is clear that many of our businesses, particularly our small and medium-sized companies, have not yet even begun to address the key issues which they could potentially face, particularly if the UK faces a no-deal scenario."
Details of the intervention emerged yesterday as the head of Northern Ireland's largest bank warned that a no-deal Brexit represents the biggest risk to the Northern Ireland economy in a generation.
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Danske Bank chief executive Kevin Kingston said he is gravely concerned about the implications of a hard Brexit, particularly for smaller businesses.
He said: "What we have seen is that larger businesses have been taking decisions to try to safeguard their operations, but the smaller businesses are far less prepared, making them the most vulnerable.
"It is these businesses that are of course the lifeblood of the economy in Northern Ireland.
"At this point I am gravely concerned about the challenges ahead should a hard Brexit become a reality."
He said that while the bank believes there will still be "some sort of a decent solution" to the Brexit crisis, leaving the EU without a deal was now a real possibility and the bank has been advising its customers accordingly.
Danske Bank said that it expects the Northern Ireland economy will grow by 1.2% in 2019, but only if Brexit "occurs in an orderly manner". That compares with 1.1% growth in 2018.
The chief executive was unwilling to make public the bank's economic projection in a no-deal scenario, but said: "In the event of a hard Brexit scenario arising, our calculations suggest that there will certainly be an impact on economic growth, there will certainly be an impact on house prices and there will certainly be an impact on unemployment. And if you put those sort of shocks into the economy, of course there will be businesses that will be unable to survive."
The chief executive described "a flurry of activity" since January 1 among larger firms in Northern Ireland in preparing for a no-deal scenario.
Craigavon-based Almac has been one of the few major companies to go public with its Brexit contingency plans.
The pharmaceutical firm has confirmed that its decision to open a new factory in Dundalk was a direct result of the UK's vote to leave the EU.