Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland business groups criticise Raab for lack of engagement

By Margaret Canning

Business lobby groups have said their concerns over Brexit need to be heard "now" as they complained that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab failed to meet them yesterday.

Newry Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Mr Raab's Warrenpoint visit, said he had met a "cross-section of businesses" in Warrenpoint.

In the Co Down town he met businesses who had been invited by the Chamber, including fit-out firm Mac Interiors, veterinary pharmaceutical company Norbrook, beef processor ABP and marine fit-out specialist MJM Group.

Newry Chamber chief executive Colm Shannon said the visit had been a "welcome opportunity" for firms to highlight their concerns over the border, and future trading relationships with the EU.

He said: "Key concerns included supply and access to labour and raw materials, regulation of products, no delays at borders or ports and the maintenance of existing trade North-South and East-West."

But Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said that it was "disappointing" that Mr Raab had not met the bodies representing retail, manufacturing, hospitality, food and drink, which he called "the industries that will be affected most by Brexit".

He said consumers here would be hardest hit if prices go up as a result of increased tariffs on ordinary goods in the aftermath of Brexit.

"Raab must understand that Northern Ireland families are already at a disadvantage, with half the discretionary spending power of those in the rest of the UK," he said.

"The result is any rises, from tariffs to red tape, will be felt exponentially more by the people of Northern Ireland. 

"Raab's visit continues the cycle of ministers arriving or flying visits when what we need is meaningful engagement and understanding of how Brexit could affects our livelihoods and lives.  

"Our door remains open and just as we heard the ideas of the EU Brexit task-force a few weeks ago, NIRC would welcome similar engagement from the Westminster Government.

"But it needs to happen now. Our businesses and our consumers need certainty and to be heard."

Mr Raab's Department for Exiting the EU was asked why he did not meet business groups from manufacturing, retail, food and drink and freight as part of his visit.

The department did not respond directly, but Mr Raab said: "I valued the opportunity to see the border first-hand, and hear from local businesses and the port authorities at Larne.

"We will not accept any Brexit proposals that threaten the economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

"The deal we strike with the EU must avoid a hard border and work for all parts of the community in Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, International Trade Minister Baroness Fairhead yesterday met members of the Federation of Small Businesses in Belfast. The Department for International Trade said the purpose of the visit was to "understand their concerns and help encourage SMEs to make the most of ever-increasing global opportunities and demand for their high-quality goods and services".

According to the Department of International Trade, 99% of businesses with a turnover of more than £500,000 a year and a product considered exportable in Northern Ireland are already selling into overseas markets - one of the highest proportion of exporters in the UK.

Belfast Telegraph

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