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Leaving without a deal is a recipe for disaster, say those living along border

Ciaran Gallagher and Maureen Nolan on their oyster farm close to Quigley's Point on Lough Foyle
Ciaran Gallagher and Maureen Nolan on their oyster farm close to Quigley's Point on Lough Foyle
Toni Forrester
Bertie Faulkner
Brian McGrath

By Cate McCurry

Candidates in the televised Tory leadership debate failed to reassure the public that they have a "serious" grasp of the border issue, a businessman has said.

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People living at the centre of the Brexit crisis have been paying a lot of interest in the battle to become the next Prime Minister.

That is because four of the five candidates in the debate said they were willing to accept a no-deal Brexit. Rory Stewart was the only one to rule it out - but he has since been eliminated.

A no-deal Brexit could negatively impact the Northern Ireland economy, and it could mean a return to checkpoints, according to Bertie Faulkner, a former councillor in Foyle.

Mr Faulkner, who has lived in Derry his entire life, was among the 55% of people here who voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

He entered local politics for two terms in the 1970s and early 1980s before chairing the Western Education and Library Board and became vice chair of the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, as well as serving on the Sports Council of Northern Ireland.

He criticised the Government's handling of the Brexit process, describing it as a "complete shambles".

"When I see what goes on in Westminster, it appals me," he said.

"Most of the candidates are being dishonest."

He hit out at Boris Johnson, who is the favourite to succeed Theresa May, over his comments about leaving the EU without a deal.

"I don't believe that Boris Johnston has any chance of leaving the EU on October 31, yet that is what he said during the debate," he added.

"Northern Ireland is benefiting from the backstop. They say there will be no hard border and they all say they don't want a hard border, and no one wants the infrastructure again.

"But under the backstop, we would have access to UK market and to the EU market.

"One of my biggest concerns in Derry is that dissident republicans will make political capital out of the fact the Republic will have to put up some sort of infrastructure if there is a no-deal."

Keeping the border open and free-flowing has been the most contentious issue to shape the Brexit debate, and Westminster's failure to ratify the withdrawal agreement has caused huge concern in border towns and villages.

Front-runner Mr Johnson said earlier this week that the backstop problems could be solved by having checks away from the border.

He was criticised after saying that the "fundamental flaw" in the withdrawal agreement is the backstop, adding that he is not pessimistic about the consequences of a no-deal.

Toni Forrester, chief executive of Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce, said that a no-deal would be the "worst possible" scenario for border businesses.

Ms Forrester travels from her home in Derry and crosses the border to work in Co Donegal five days a week.

"As a border population, we don't believe there are any upsides to a no-deal. There's been no clarity from the UK Government as to how they will handle goods and services," she said.

"A no-deal will mean checks, and anything that holds up trade just because of where they are is unfair to the region. We would feel there is not a great depth of understanding from politicians in the UK about the border.

"We don't have any control over who is the next UK Prime Minister, but we would be urging all the parties to get a deal that recognises the border and the Good Friday Agreement. The peace in Northern Ireland was hard fought for." Oyster farmer Ciaran Gallagher has been working in Lough Foyle for around four years.

He has 7,000 bags of oysters and is hoping to expand the business to 40,000 bags over the next three years.

"There's potential to make a really great business out of it," he said.

"We send most of our product to France, and while Brexit hasn't affected us yet, when it does we hope it has a positive impact.

"The British people need a second referendum, as I think the majority of them didn't know what they were voting for."

Brian McGrath, president of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said the Conservative leadership debate "did little to reassure" its members that the candidates had a serious grasp of the Irish border issue.

"The Chamber of Commerce, with other key local stakeholders, have been involved in a positive discussion with the alternative arrangements working group," he said.

"This is no doubt a genuine attempt to resolve what seems to be an intractable issue, through the application of a technology-based approach to cross-border trade.

"We seem to be in a catch-22 situation.

"There must be a withdrawal agreement before moving to an implementation period, so the idea a solution can be found without extending the October 31 deadline appears very optimistic.

"We remain open to innovative solutions, but we must ensure that we leave the EU with a deal."

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