Northern Ireland businesses on Brussels visit urge UK clarity over border backstop
Northern Ireland business groups have said they are waiting for more detail from the UK after a meeting in Brussels to discuss a proposed backstop arrangement for the province in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Business groups representing sectors from agri-food to pharma, manufacturing to freight, and retail to road builders, attended the meeting with Task Force 50, the EU group with responsibility for talks on Brexit with the EU.
The groups attending included Manufacturing NI, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and the Quarry Products Association.
In a joint statement, the organisations said the meeting was an opportunity for "a technical conversation about what this means for businesses who trade throughout the UK, into the EU and internationally".
"We had a good constructive conversation and TF50 were able to answer many of our questions. We left with some things to think about and challenged TF50 to look at certain areas," they added.
They said there now needed to be engagement with the UK on the substance of the backstop agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
"We still await the UK's version of the backstop and we welcome the opportunity to engage with both the UK Government and NI representatives on this.
"It is clear that no deal is bad for NI businesses, consumers and future job creation. We need to see a deal in place and we urge the negotiators on both sides to use the limited time ahead to reach a deal that works not only for the EU and the UK but critically for Northern Ireland."
Seamus Leheny, policy manager of the Freight Transport Association, described the the meeting as "constructive".
"Meeting went well and we've had some clarity from the EU. The ball is now in the court of the UK Government," he said.
Ahead of the meeting, Gordon Best, the head of the Quarry Products Association, which represents sectors including road building, said he was not taking sides in the Brexit debate but wanted the best deal for Northern Ireland. Mr Best tweeted: "I'm not a Remainer nor a Brexiteer. I'm a Northern Irelander who wants a special deal for all of us and our children that will bring prosperity and the long awaited peace dividend."
Stefaan De Rynck, senior adviser to chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, also said the meeting had been a success. "We found the exchange very constructive and useful," he tweeted.