Belfast Telegraph

Neil McShane: Brexit deal protecting Northern Ireland could bring an economic boost

 

Both candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party are fully aware of the catastrophic nature of a no-deal Brexit a
Both candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party are fully aware of the catastrophic nature of a no-deal Brexit a

By Neil McShane

We have now endured three years of turbulence since the Brexit referendum and clearly we need this resulting uncertainty to be removed as a matter of urgency.

MPs last week voted, by a margin of just one, to amend the Northern Ireland Bill to stop a future Prime Minister from forcing through a no-deal Brexit by suspending Parliament. While not impossible, this does make it much harder for the incoming PM to suspend Parliament in order to leave without a deal on the current deadline of October 31.

This amendment is a welcome development, particularly for us in Northern Ireland because of the catastrophic nature of a no-deal scenario. Department for the Economy research indicates that no-deal could put 40,000 jobs at risk - while findings by the Ulster Bank in its purchasing managers' index indicate that Northern Ireland's economy may have entered into a downturn.

So what can we expect on October 31? Well, given that both candidates for Number 10 say they will negotiate a completely new deal, in spite of the EU making it abundantly clear that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened, it seems securing a completely new deal, on or before the deadline, is ambitious to say the least.

I believe that both candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party are fully aware of the catastrophic nature of a no-deal Brexit and neither would want to preside over such an unprecedented act of economic and political self-harm.

There is still a multitude of potential outcomes, including a second referendum and/or a general election, but ultimately it looks like we will either vote to revoke Article 50 in order to remain or, more likely, a deal is secured which looks distinctly similar to existing withdrawal agreement.

Both candidates have promised to remove the backstop but neither seem to have credible plans to replace it. In any event, the EU has been clear regarding the importance of protecting the already-fragile position of Northern Ireland, so whatever deal is done should represent a good result for this region, so much so that we could experience an overnight economic boost.

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What would that mean for the property industry? Well, the removal of Brexit uncertainty, combined with a potentially uniquely-attractive positioning for NI, could transform the currently constrained property market: potential sellers become active sellers and potential buyers become actual buyers.

We could see a wealth of opportunities come to the market, thereby satisfying the pent-up demand for product.

Furthermore, whilst a boost in the market can drive prices, it is likely that the wealth of opportunities will temper any potential capital growth, and result in a more sustainable market situation. And this may be only a fraction of the positive transformational possibilities for NI should we get the deal we so desperately need.

The prospect is exciting, however, unless and until a deal is secured, the ongoing uncertainty will hold us back. Whoever gets into Number 10 will be charged with a huge responsibility and, whilst neither seems particularly interested in NI, neither will secure a deal without coming up with a viable solution for it.

Neil McShane is founder and director of commercial property investment firm In Prio

Belfast Telegraph

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