Belfast Telegraph

More Northern Ireland firms speak out in favour of draft Brexit agreement

... but some fear obstacles to striking overseas trade deals

By Ryan McAleer

More of Northern Ireland's biggest employers have spoken out in favour of Prime Minister Theresa May's draft Brexit deal, saying a no-deal scenario must be avoided.

But Irwin Armstrong of medical testing firm Ciga Healthcare - who is one of the local business world's most outspoken voices in favour of Brexit - pronounced the deal "dead".

Just days after Beannchor boss Bill Wolsey urged his contemporaries to find their voice in the wake of the opposition to the draft EU withdrawal agreement in London, more major business figures in Northern Ireland appear to have responded.

Among the companies backing the deal yesterday were W&R Barnett, Brett Martin and Bombardier, who between them employ around 6,000 people here.

Also speaking yesterday, Argento chief executive Pete Boyle, who owns 50 jewellery stores in the UK, said the draft text was "the best of a bad lot", adding: "No deal is not an option."

The Strabane native also voiced his frustration at Sinn Fein. He said: "They have seven votes in Parliament and they're not using them.

"It's very easy for nationalists and republicans to sit and blame the DUP for this mess, but Sinn Fein cannot wash their hands of this."

Irwin Armstrong was one of the few business figures to voice opposition to the draft withdrawal agreement yesterday, describing it as "dead".

He said he feared the deal would hinder Northern Ireland's ability to strike overseas trade deals.

One of the biggest pro-Brexit figures in the world of Northern Ireland business has been Wrightbus co-founder William Wright. Yesterday, the Wrights Group said no one was available to comment on the draft agreement.

The Ballymena bus manufacturer was not the only firm remaining tight-lipped.

However, others spoke to back the position taken up by bodies representing the business and farming communities here.

William Barnett, who heads the W&R Barnett Group, one of Northern Ireland's largest agriculture and commodity groups, said: "Our view is that the proposed deal is much better than the no deal option, and its guarantee of full access to both EU and GB markets for Northern Ireland could lead to substantial jobs growth here."

Brett Martin director Brian Martin, which employs almost 1,000 people, told Business Telegraph that the firm "welcomes any deal that ensures tariff-free, seamless and unrestricted access to all our markets".

Meanwhile, Bombardier has said it will back a deal "that provides assurances for frictionless trade".

The company said: "The draft withdrawal agreement proposed by the Government forms a basis for this and is an important step forward.

"We will continue to work closely with the Government and industry associations in both our rail and aerospace businesses through this process."

Crossgar-based independent wine merchant James Nicholson, who voted for Brexit, was scathing of Northern Ireland's political leaders yesterday, branding them "economic terrorists".

"The farming and the business community want to get on with this deal," he said.

"I was a Brexit supporter, whether I'm as big a Brexit supporter now having been through the pain of watching the negotiations is questionable."

Belfast Telegraph

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