MPs warned on 'no-deal' as D-Day for Brexit vote finally here
Crashing out of Europe 'an affront to rational thinking'
One of Northern Ireland's most senior business figures has called pursuit of a no-deal Brexit "an affront to rational thinking" as the draft withdrawal agreement is voted on by MPs today.
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Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to lose, with at least 64 Conservative MPs saying they intend to vote against it.
But in a joint statement with Republic of Ireland business organisation IBEC, the CBI in Northern Ireland said a no-deal scenario in the event of the deal being rejected would bring an "immediate and unprecedented economic shock".
A no-deal must therefore be avoided, they said, calling on MPs to support the draft.
CBI Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan said: "Many firms across Northern Ireland simply could not cope with a no-deal Brexit. Not only would it do significant harm to jobs, investment and living standards, but it would put at risk the all-island economic model that has been an important factor in driving local prosperity.
"Moreover, it brings with it unnecessary risk to the Good Friday Agreement, which has been the foundation of social, economic and political progress.
"The assurances that business have been crying out for are broadly provided for in the withdrawal agreement - ignoring that in pursuit of no-deal isn't just economic recklessness, it's an affront to rational thinking."
But the agreement has been rejected by MPs across the House of Commons, including the DUP, whose 10 MPs have vowed to vote against it.
Their main objection is to the ‘backstop’, which would come into force to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a failure to reach a trading agreement. The backstop would leave Northern Ireland subject to some EU rules, with checks on certain goods coming into the province from Britain.
The DUP and other MPs have said the arrangement threatens constitutional integrity.
But IBEC and the CBI said the backstop was an insurance policy.
“For business on the island of Ireland the backstop provides a ‘safety-net’ insurance policy, which would ideally be rendered obsolete by a comprehensive EU-UK agreement on their future relationship involving arrangements better than the ‘backstop’.”
They said ratification of the agreement was “vital” to allow trade talks to progress. “Agreement on future relations should facilitate frictionless trade and ‘just-in-time’ supply chains to continue operating post-Brexit. “For business in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and especially SMEs that predominantly trade in the all-island economy, it is vital the future relationship should include an ambitious deal on services.”
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said we, as the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU, stood to lose out most in the event of a no-deal. “I’d urge MPs to think of Northern Ireland as they decide what lobby to walk through,” he said.