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Northern Ireland investment by foreign firms plunges 54% as Brexit fears mount

Alarming slump blamed on Brexit and political instability

By Margaret Canning

Foreign investment in Northern Ireland has plummeted by more than 50%, a new survey has found.

A leading economist has blamed Brexit, the lack of a Stormont Executive and even the debate over same-sex marriage and abortion for contributing to the massive downturn.

Economist John Simpson was speaking as a report by business advisors EY found there was a 54% fall in investments by new foreign companies during 2017.

There were just 19 projects here, compared to 33 in Wales, the next poorest performer in EY's Attractiveness Survey.

Mr Simpson said he was unsurprised by the findings, as he said Northern Ireland's attractiveness to investors was being hit by fears over the effects of Brexit, and the lack of a functioning devolved government.

And, he added, that uncertainty was creating "a serious handicap for Invest NI and for us all as individuals hoping to improve our economic prosperity".

The economist said the debates over same-sex marriage and abortion here were also contributing to concerns about NI as a location for investment.

"The uncertainty about the future role of the border on the island, along with the social worries about equal marriage, the concerns about a greater degree of compassion in dealing with abortion, and an intractable disagreement on the freedoms in the use of Irish language are all homemade obstacles to improving the economy," he added.

However, a spokeswoman for Invest NI, which is responsible for attracting overseas investment, said: "EY's results count investment from outside of the UK during a calendar year and therefore do not reflect the full picture of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) success in Northern Ireland.

"Over the past five years Northern Ireland attracted more FDI jobs per head than any region in the UK." Invest NI said its calculations on FDI included investments from companies in Great Britain into Northern Ireland, which were not included by EY.

EY Ireland chief economist Neil Gibson said a calendar year, as used in the Attractiveness Survey, was not an adequate period in which to judge FDI performance. But he added: "It is a weak year on this measure, and disappointing, but it's set in the context of a very strong year previously. It will be important to see if this reflects a step change to a lower level or a blip."

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