Belfast Telegraph

CBI chief attacks political paralysis gripping Stormont and Westminster


By Margaret Canning

Political deadlock from Stormont to Brussels must be broken as soon as possible, the head of the Confederation of British Industry in the UK has said.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the business body, told the CBI NI annual lunch in Belfast that Brexit must not be allowed to throw Northern Ireland’s recent economic progress off course.

She also condemned the Government’s approach to the future of EU nationals resident in the UK after Brexit, describing it as going from “regrettable, to disgraceful, to downright intolerable”.

And she called on Northern Ireland business to focus on innovation and entrepreneurialism and celebrate advances made in areas such as agri-tech, aerospace and cyber-security.

But political and business leaders need to build on the progress of the Good Friday Agreement and push for transitional Brexit arrangements, Ms Fairbairn added.

She said the border with the Republic needed to remain open and that there was an urgent need for an all-island market for business initiatives, such as the North-South Interconnector, to be preserved.

She also urged politicians here, in Westminster and in Brussels to get working. “What we see in Stormont, Westminster and Brussels is deadlock,” Ms Fairbairn said. “This needs to change — fast.

“On Brexit, the people of Northern Ireland need a voice. Politicians need to be in Stormont making sure the voice of business and prosperity is heard.

“Those outstanding issues that have led to the collapse of the local Executive need to be resolved by political representatives as soon as possible. The impact of having no Executive is being felt acutely across Northern Ireland’s business community.

“This really matters because Northern Ireland’s situation is unique.”

The event also heard from First Trust’s chief executive Des Moore, who said the number one priority for the economy was “getting the Executive back up and running as soon as possible”.

He added: “There is no doubt that the wider economy and our long-term success needs a functioning government and Executive to take forward the many economic priorities we have — whether around skills, infrastructure, corporation tax, inward investment — and an agreed position on Brexit given the special circumstances we are likely to face.”

In his speech at the lunch, Martin Wolf, economic commentator and associate editor of the Financial Times, told lunch guests the UK’s low productivity was a bigger economic challenge than Brexit.

He also described the vote to leave the EU as “lunatic” but said he did not think the decision to proceed with Brexit would be reversed.

Mr Wolf was scathing about the Cabinet and ministers with input into Brexit, saying one was “a fool” and another “economically illiterate”.

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.