Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Northern Ireland business chiefs talk tough to MPs

By Mark Bain

If Brexiteers have an alternative to the withdrawal agreement, they need to reveal it now, a business leader has told MPs.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, was part of a 12-strong delegation at Westminster yesterday.

The group meeting 30 MPs included representatives of Manufacturing NI, Foyle Port, Londonderry Chamber, NI Mineral Products Association, Airporter, NI Retail Consortium and CBI.

Mr Connolly told MPs that time is running out and the business community is still in the dark over what lies ahead.

"We need a deal, it's as blunt as that," he said. "If it's not going to be this deal then it has to be another one. We're at the stage now where we need those who are going to vote against the current deal to put their cards on the table, show us the deal they want, and do it immediately.

"It's now so critical for business in Northern Ireland. It was critical when all this started, but we're now 79 days away from the no deal Brexit we have feared. There is no wriggle room here.

"Businesses are at stake, jobs are at stake, people's livelihoods and the ability to support their families are at stake.

"That's why it was good to have the opportunity to get that message across to politicians from all parties. Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems and the DUP were all in attendance and that was helpful. But we still don't know what is going to happen.

"No deal will bring tariffs, customs and costs that the business community simply can't afford - that message can't be made any clearer.

"As things stand, it's the deal on the table now or no deal. That's a real concern. We've said time and again, Northern Ireland business simply can't afford a no deal and we can't be left in the dark any longer."

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, described it as "a very useful engagement".

"I think there was a certain amount of surprise at the backing business in Northern Ireland is giving to the Prime Minister's draft agreement," he said.

"The discussions were open and frank but they needed to be as time is running out and the future of businesses in NI are at stake here. We all know there are only 79 days to sort this and businesses need to start making key decisions on the future."

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