Northern Ireland's economy 'will grow despite Brexit'
Brexit will not stop the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic growing, an economist has said.
Andrew Webb, who has been appointed as the new chief economist for Grant Thornton in Northern Ireland, was speaking as the UK was granted an extension to Article 50 late on Wednesday night.
The UK is now on course to leave the EU on a new date, October 31, or sooner if MPs approve a withdrawal deal. It could still leave without a deal on June 1 if MPs reject taking part in European elections.
Despite the uncertainty, Mr Webb said: "The economy across Ireland has shown remarkable resilience over the past few years. While there is a marked difference in the pace of growth between Northern Ireland and the Republic, we expect both parts of the island to continue growing during the year.
"Much of the forward outlook is still dependent on Brexit and the terms of trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
"The most recent delay, until the end of October potentially, provides some breathing space and perhaps room for calm heads to prevail, but it brings no certainty for business."
The senior economist said that while Brexit had dominated the socio-economic and political conversation north and south of the border for more than three years, a number of issues were equally concerning.
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"In addition to planning for Brexit, both economies on the island face challenges around issues such as skills, innovation, productivity, housing, internationalisation, economic inactivity and entrepreneurship," said Mr Webb.
"At an all-island level - almost ironically given where Brexit could take us - there has been an increased focus to develop a more integrated economy, either through the Belfast to Dublin eastern corridor initiative, the Wild Atlantic Way or the North West Regional Development Group. Our economic advisory practice is already engaged in this space and aims to support innovative policy development across the island."
Mr Webb joined Grant Thornton's Belfast-based headquarters at Donegall Square West earlier in the month. The business services group has also recruited John Lavery as a new associate director in its economic advisory team. It is part of a £4m expansion in Northern Ireland by Grant Thornton, which recently announced plans to recruit 48 new staff in Belfast.
Welcoming the pair to Grant Thornton's Belfast headquarters, managing partner Richard Gillan said: "Recruitment of 48 new roles, recently announced as part of a £4m expansion, is also well under way and we anticipate further growth to come."