Belfast Telegraph

A special arrangement with Europe can only benefit NI and safeguard our ability to trade

By Stephen Farry

DUP intransigence, combined with relative silence from others, could lead to Northern Ireland missing out on a path through Brexit that offers a potential, comparative advantage that could provide a real boost to our economy. Instead, we could face a hard crash.

This region is already a special case. Economically, both the east-west and north-south dimensions are important in terms of supply chains and sales.

It would be easier if Brexit was reconsidered via a people's vote, or the UK entered a fresh Customs Union and stayed in the Single Market.

But these routes have so far been dismissed.

Hence, there is the need for special arrangements for this region.

The proposed backstop does not alter the constitutional situation. Indeed, given the turbulence around a hard or no-deal Brexit, it would bring a little more stability and cohesion.

The backstop is the minimum to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to ensure an open land border.

Nevertheless, it is clear to Michel Barnier and others that Northern Ireland could have an opportunity through remaining fully within the UK market while having preferential access to the EU market. We could be a focal point for new investment.

This 'best of both worlds' approach was the essence of Alliance's 'Bridges not Borders' paper which we published last November.

Even so, the backstop is not a perfect solution. It covers goods but not services or the movement of people as we sought in our paper.

But it can be the foundation of a wider special deal if that is still required.

The EU is the most advanced form of economic integration. The backstop offers easier access to a market of over 500 million consumers. Regulations are not burdensome but rather make the market work fairly and efficiently.

This model does not cut off GB access to NI. Minimal additional checks would build on existing practice.

Seven sea and airport interfaces can be managed easier than almost 300 land crossings.

Greater volume may move east to west but this tends to be dominated by larger companies with sophisticated logistics. North-south movements are more numerous and dominated by small traders.

Brexiteers also neglect the existing amount of goods coming from GB traveling via Dublin, which would be impacted by Brexit anyway.

Some claim Northern Ireland would miss the new trade deals of the 'global Britain' delusion.

Yet, the EU already has over 50 deals.

Indeed, it is better placed than the UK to do more.

We stand to benefit much more from this course than the delusions of the Brexiteers.

Let's seize the moment and the opportunity.

Stephen Farry MLA is the deputy leader of the Alliance Party

Belfast Telegraph


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