Belfast Telegraph

No-deal Brexit not an option, say Northern Ireland retailers and farmers

Ann McGregor
Ann McGregor
Ivor Ferguson
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Northern Ireland's politicians, business and farming leaders have warned against crashing out of the EU without a deal after the latest defeat of Theresa May's withdrawal agreement.

The DUP, which props up Mrs May's minority Government, voted against her deal, and has urged MPs voting today to keep the threat of no-deal on the table.

Sinn Fein accused the party of being "hell-bent" on pursuing a Brexit strategy that is "driving us all towards a no-deal catastrophe".

The local business community last night expressed frustration at the lack of certainty and clarity over future trading.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber, warned against a no-deal scenario and "the messy and disorderly exit that it will bring".

"Neither Government nor many businesses are ready for a no-deal exit, and it must not be allowed to happen by default," she said.

"Despite two-and-a-half years passing since the referendum, there is no clear plan to support those businesses at the sharp end of such an abrupt change."

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, urged politicians of all shades to "put people before politics and economics before ideology to find an agreement that can pass a vote".

"We have no indication of customs, tariffs, documentation or checks that will be in effect on day one and we are no clearer as to the status of the border," he said.

"There are no winners in a no-deal Brexit that systematically disintegrates the supply chains of these islands."

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts called for an extension to Article 50 to allow time for meaningful talks between the Government and Opposition parties.

"Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be disastrous for our retail sector, causing delays in the supply chain, food shortages and potential higher prices for consumers," he said.

"Every element of the Northern Ireland business community, trade unions and voluntary sector is speaking with one very clear voice on Brexit - we need a deal."

Roger Pollen, Federation of Small Businesses NI head of external affairs, said last night's result further heightened uncertainty and reinforced the need for a Stormont input into the Brexit process.

"For small businesses, they just want to know what economic environment they will face after March 29. A cliff-edge Brexit is in no-one's interest," he said.

Meanwhile, the UK's four main farming unions said the outcome of the vote means there is no realistic possibility of achieving an orderly departure from the EU on March 29.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson - along with leaders of the National Farmers' Unions in England, Scotland and Wales - repeated a warning that a no-deal exit from the EU would be a catastrophe for UK farming and food production.

"This continued uncertainty is having real world consequences on farming businesses and wider British industry already," they said. "It is time for MPs to consider the concessions they will need to accommodate to support a deal that finally brings to an end the enormous and damaging uncertainty that is already undermining our food and farming sectors."

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson called on the EU and UK "to use their best efforts to work towards a workable deal in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit", adding: "Calm heads are needed now and a short technical extension should be seriously considered."

Alliance leader Naomi Long called for a second referendum as a matter of urgency, saying Parliament was now "hopelessly divided and in a shambles" over Brexit. "The House of Commons is good at saying what it is against, but can't manage to give a clear answer on what it is for," she added.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that Westminster will have to accept the backstop at some point, or else support no Brexit at all.

"Until MPs accept this reality, Article 50 should be extended to avoid us crashing out of the EU without a deal," he added.

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