Belfast Telegraph

Jennifer McKeever: Brexit draft deal met with measured relief


A no-deal Brexit would be bad news for Londonderry
A no-deal Brexit would be bad news for Londonderry

By Jennifer McKeever

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for business, politics and wider society as Brexit negotiations have peaked. We have finally gained some level of clarity around what a Brexit deal will look like once we exit the EU in 2019.

We haven't reached this point easily. It has taken more than two years since the referendum and we have witnessed further elections, and countless political fallouts and resignations.

The border in Ireland has been one of the most divisive issues and the most intractable. It has caused so much division and put political relationships under enormous pressure.

When Brexit is done and dusted, much work will have to be done to not only rebuild our economy, but to rebuild relationships in our society.

Business organisations here have responded to Theresa May's Brexit deal with a measured sigh of relief.

Relief because we can now see some sort of pathway beyond March 2019, even if many of us would prefer to remain in the EU.

The deal proposed has been recognised by businesses as the most realistic and practical deal in terms of damage limitation for our economy and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In the north west in which our Chamber is based, we voted to remain in the EU, as did the majority of people in Northern Ireland. Many of our members would prefer not to leave.

As a city region on the border, we have ties to the Republic that go way beyond the ability to trade on a cross-border basis.

The border for us is barely visible. We have families, friends, employees and colleagues who are living on both sides of the border. Our whole lives are cross-border, and not just parts of it. Crashing out of the EU without a deal will cause untold anxiety and further division in our region. A hard border is what everyone wants to avoid.

In light of the deal that is proposed, businesses in the north west - like others across the region - are pragmatic and willing to do what it takes to adapt and move forward.

This deal and the backstop gives us a starting point and allows us to plan ahead.

It is not ideal, but it is workable and affords us the guarantee of a soft border in Ireland. That is integral to those living, working and doing business in border areas.

Of course, we are not there yet, and we face another few uncertain weeks.

Theresa May's deal must still go through the House of Commons and that will take a small miracle given what we have heard from MPs in all corners of the Commons.

Despite her tenacity in recent weeks, it still looks unlikely that the numbers will go in her favour. It is hard to imagine where we will end up if the proposed deal does not get the support it needs.

A hard border would be nothing short of catastrophic for businesses in the north west. The next months and years will bring huge change.

There will be disruption for our economy and civic society.

However, a deal that puts in place measures to keep our border soft is essential and businesses will always take the pragmatic view that the certainty provided by this deal, is always preferable to a no-deal outcome.

There seems to be no possible Brexit outcome that will allow the people of Northern Ireland to return to the status quo of three years ago. Whatever comes next, we can't go back to what we had.

Jennifer McKeever is co-director of airport transport firm Airporter and president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce

Belfast Telegraph