Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland businesses are upbeat after Karen Bradley discussions

NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley meets key Northern Ireland business representatives to brief them on the Draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement
NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley meets key Northern Ireland business representatives to brief them on the Draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The heads of some of Northern Ireland's largest businesses have voiced support for Theresa May's draft Brexit deal, after meeting the Secretary of State in Belfast yesterday afternoon.

Leaving a mounting political storm in London behind her, Karen Bradley flew into Northern Ireland to brief the 20 businesses on the 585-page document.

Among the firms represented on the top floor of the Grand Central Hotel were Danske Bank, Power NI, Dale Farm, ASDA and BT, between them employing around 12,000 people in Northern Ireland.

While Theresa May faced a storm of criticism on the floor of the House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Secretary was treated to a warm reception.

Mrs Bradley said she had flown over because she wanted to listen to the reaction to the deal from NI businesses.

"It's very clear that from the conversations I've just had, that what the businesses and people in Northern Ireland want, is politicians to come together, do the right thing, think about the national interest and support the deal," she said after the meeting.

"Business leaders understand that this is a pragmatic deal, but it is overall the right deal for the United Kingdom."

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The overriding tone from the business figures afterwards was generally upbeat, and while far from perfect, most said it remains the best option on the table for the Northern Ireland economy.

Danske Bank chief executive Kevin Kingston said he felt reassured from what he heard regarding the proposals around the backstop arrangement, designed to prevent a hard border.

He said: "We're the biggest funder to Northern Ireland business. Our customers are calling for clarity on the way forward.

"I think this represents a significant milestone. Yes, there's a lot of work before turning it into legislation, but I'm very encouraged by what I've heard today."

Brian McConville from Newry fit-out firm MJM Marine said every business had the same message - the need for certainty.

"At the back of it, it sounds like there's a solution to get the uncertainty out of the market, so we all can get on with our lives.

"I don't see anybody coming up with anything better.

"I'm a business person, I make business decisions. I'm not sure about the political side, but the text that has been offered to us seems to be a fair and honest way of getting through this."

John Healy from the NI Chamber, who hosted yesterday's meeting, said the opinion of the business lobby group remains that "any deal is better than 'no deal' for business".

The chamber vice-president, who is also managing director of insurance giant All State, said there had been a positive tone in the meeting.

"There was a general consensus around the table that there's a lot for business to do well with.

"Businesses have all along been looking for certainty and this deal that's on the table is bringing some level of certainty to our thinking."

Chief executive of Foyle Port, Brian McGrath, said the key message from Mrs Bradley to businesses was the need to reflect on the national interest.

He said businesses in the north-west remain focused on ensuring cross-border activity is maintained.

"From a business perspective, I think it's hard to argue that it's not a positive starting point," he said of the text.

Belfast Telegraph