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Brexiteer calls for Northern Ireland compromise to head off a no-deal

Irwin Armstrong
Irwin Armstrong
Andy Haldane
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

A leading Northern Ireland Brexit supporter has come out strongly against no-deal and has called on unionist and nationalist politicians to set aside their differences and work for a solution.

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With 100 days until the UK is set to leave the EU on October 31, Irwin Armstrong said that if the will existed on all sides, a no-deal could be avoided.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "No-deal is not an acceptable outcome for the island of Ireland because the economic damage it would cause on both sides of the border would have a very long-term impact.

"Therefore, we need to find a solution that will allow trade to continue normally across the border without any impediment.

"Unionist and nationalist political leaders must lay aside their differences and work to address the issue. This is more important than anything else they are currently looking at because thousands of jobs are at stake on both sides of the border."

Mr Armstrong, a former chair of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland, was one of the few pro-Brexit voices in the business world. He said he still believed that the UK's future was best served by leaving the EU.

"The current withdrawal agreement has already been rejected by the House of Commons and is not likely to be accepted in future," he added.

"The question is how can the backstop be removed and replaced with a final deal that can keep open borders on the island of Ireland and at the same time within the UK.

"Ireland took a hardline decision over the backstop that could well finish with the very result that they said they were determined to avoid, a no-deal Brexit.

"Since Ireland decided not to take advantage of a possible deal with the UK, it is now time to consider the possibility of Northern Ireland trying to agree a deal that would allow them to trade freely with both the EU and Britain and also to take advantage of any future trade deals entered into by the UK."

Mr Armstrong said that if Northern Ireland agreed to meet EU single market regulations, there would be little difficulty in identifying goods made here and their manufacturing standard.

He added: "Northern Ireland manufacturers could be issued with a licence to use a logo and an identifier that confirmed that the goods were made here, had a minimum added value and only contained approved components or ingredients.

"It could be more complex to police animals or animal products that enter the food chain from Britain.

"But, with current levels of traceability to a specific location in Northern Ireland as to where animals or animal products were raised or produced, it is not an insurmountable issue."

Mr Armstrong said if the backstop was replaced with such an agreement, the withdrawal agreement should pass through Parliament if the DUP accepted that "a minor concession" over the checking of goods in Northern Ireland manufacturers was worth getting a deal that would bring "major economic benefits to Northern Ireland".

He added: "The ability to trade in the EU, the UK and any countries that the UK enters into would make Northern Ireland a very attractive inward investment location, especially if the reduction in corporation tax that has already been legislated for was introduced.

"Concessions by the EU, UK and political parties in Northern Ireland - for a population that is less than half of one per cent of the EU population - would seem to only require very minor modifications to current legislations and allow a full UK-EU trade deal to be negotiated over a much longer period."

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Government's Industrial Strategy Council has said that Brexit deadlock is undermining efforts to boost the UK economy.

Andy Haldane told BBC Newsnight it was "plausible" that one of the "costs of Brexit is that not as much other stuff has happened as night".

Mr Haldane, who is also chief economist of the Bank of England, said: "In the absence of Brexit, might more have been done? Perhaps."

Asked about his concerns on a no-deal, Mr Haldane referred to the bank's analysis from last year which suggested that, in a worst case scenario, such a rupture could trigger a deep recession.

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