Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland business leaders call for compromise over Brexit at summit in Westminster

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill and Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly at Westminster
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill and Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly at Westminster

By John Mulgrew

Government talks with the DUP and others are making progress to secure a "plan A" deal for Brexit to avoid potential economic chaos in Northern Ireland - a compromise which now has received backing from top business leaders.

Hundreds of leaders of Northern Ireland's business community and politicians attended the launch of Trade NI's new Vision 2030 report at Westminster last night to hear resounding calls for a deal to be agreed among leaders and that a no-deal Brexit is still not an option for the region.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Belfast Telegraph people were keen to see a deal agreed.

"We are talking to the Government (and seeking) alternative arrangements to the backstop, so we can get an accommodation where the UK leaves with a withdrawal agreement but where the backstop will be replaced by practical arrangements for dealing with cross-border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland," he said.

Claims by Glyn Roberts, from Retail NI, that a no-deal withdrawal was not an option were met with cheers of "hear, hear".

Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said his organisation, which represents the massive agri-food sector, supported a compromise and any solution that keeps the situation close to the frictionless trade currently enjoyed.

"We want to stay as close to the existing arrangements as we can," Mr Bell said.

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"We supported Theresa May's deal and we will support a compromise. It is for the politicians to decide what is constitutional and what isn't."

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith told the event: "I am acutely aware, totally clear and fully supportive that we need to get a deal. I am working closely with the Prime Minister and his negotiation team."

Mr Smith added the UK needed to agree a deal within the next six to eight weeks, with the October 31 withdrawal deadline now in sight.

Sir Jeffrey said the current talks would not result in a backstop-style arrangement.

"This is about our future relationships and how we do trade across the border when the UK leaves the EU," he said.

"It's a very different vehicle and a very different outcome to a backstop. That would be plan B and this would be plan A."

Kevin Kingston, chief executive of Danske Bank, who attended as one of the sponsors, agreed there was an appetite for a Northern Ireland-specific deal.

He said any agreement would have to "look at the needs of Northern Ireland and address those while meeting the needs of all the other parties that have an interest in the outcome".

"I do believe there are other opportunities for a unique solution which may well address the needs of Northern Ireland while meeting the political demands," Mr Kingston said.

"I think every one of our political representatives needs to be putting Northern Ireland first."

Trade NI is an alliance made up of Hospitality Ulster, headed by Colin Neill, Manufacturing NI, led by Stephen Kelly, and Retail NI, headed by Glyn Roberts.

Referring to the impact of a no-deal Brexit and the ongoing lack of a devolved Assembly, Mr Kelly told the event that business could not be done "with our hands behind our backs".

The bosses, politicians and dignitaries packed into the Pavilion at Westminster formed the single largest Northern Ireland business delegation to descend on Parliament.

Speaking about Vision 2030's ambitious plan to create new 65,000 jobs, Anne Donaghy, the chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: "Our area is the traditional engine room of the Northern Ireland economy, with manufacturing at its heart.

"As a council, we are working so hard to deliver Northern Ireland's first advanced manufacturing ecosystem in mid and east Antrim and promoting the incredible potential of our area at a regional, national and international level. We have the skills, the knowledge, the infrastructure and the ambition to deliver this for our citizens and the whole of Northern Ireland."

Trade NI said the "shift of power from Stormont to Westminster means that we must press decision makers there to implement policies and make legislative changes that will help grow Northern Ireland".

"Our local economy and businesses have taken a back seat and we simply cannot afford that situation any longer," it added.

Arlene Foster said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had ruled out a Northern Ireland-only backstop and any deal that would break up "the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK".

Belfast Telegraph

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