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Bradley urges Northern Ireland businesses to speak up on agreement's benefits

By Mark Bain

Northern Ireland's economy stands "on the brink of chaos" if MPs vote against accepting Theresa May's draft Brexit withdrawal agreement, the Secretary of State has warned.

Karen Bradley gave a keynote speech to business groups in Belfast yesterday.

In her speech, made on the 20th anniversary of the Northern Ireland Act which brought a power-sharing government to Stormont, the Secretary of State told the audience that the Prime Minister's Brexit deal "preserves the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, upholds the Belfast Agreement. It also ensures people and businesses that rely on an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue living their lives and operating as they do now".

The event was attended by members of the CBI, the NI Chamber of Commerce, The Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors.

Ms Bradley issued a rallying call for continued business support for the deal on the table.

"I hope business continues speaking up and speaking out on the benefit it brings to Northern Ireland in the coming crucial days and weeks ahead," she said.

"Business input has been thoughtful, constructive and sometimes challenging, but contributions made over the past two-and-a-half years have helped bring us to this point."

She added: "The country now faces a choice between this deal, the only workable deal that fulfils the will of the referendum, or going back to square one on Brexit.

"This deal will deliver in full on the result of the referendum. It will see the UK take back control of our borders, our laws and our money.

"And it is a deal that will see us uphold in full our commitments to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland: protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its parts, including the principle of consent, citizenship rights and human rights provisions; avoiding a hard border and preserving North-South co-operation and funding; preserving the Common Travel Area and reciprocal rights for UK and Irish nationals; and, of course, maintaining the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

"This deal does not open the door to divergence.

"It is fundamentally in the national interest, which means we can look ahead to a close and productive future relationship with the EU.

"Reject this then you are rejecting any deal with the EU."

She also made it made clear that a no-deal Brexit will deliver customs and regulatory checks on the island of Ireland.

She stressed that while the UK Government is committed to working to avoid a hard border, World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules are "very clear".

She added: "We will do, as the UK Government, everything we can to avoid there being a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"We do not want to see there being physical infrastructure at the border and we will try to facilitate that in any way we can.

"But the WTO rules are clear - tariffs will apply, checks will be required - that is what the WTO says."

Business leaders also took the opportunity to reiterate their stance that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the economy here.

Trevor Lockhart, CBI chairman for Northern Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph: "Our message from the outset has been that we want opinions to be formed on the economic evidence.

"Follow the facts and they only lead to the conclusion that no deal would be a disaster for Northern Ireland.

"The business community understands that political parties will reflect on their political priorities.

"But they should not attempt to justify their respective political positions with flawed economic arguments.

"Northern Ireland business is together on this like never before.

"Companies could not cope with a no-deal Brexit, that would be a risk to jobs, investments and living standards.

"The withdrawal agreement may not be perfect, but it is progress and should be supported until the new trade relationship is in place."

CBI director Angela McGowan said there is broad support from her organisation for the agreement, though there are some aspects it hopes "will be ironed out".

"This opens the path for the UK Government to start moving on to that frictionless trade deal that we hope to get with the EU and that the backstop isn't even needed," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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