Belfast Telegraph

UUP call for Northern Ireland to become enterprise zone in wake of Brexit is rejected by rivals

By Noel McAdam

Stormont parties have clashed bitterly over the way forward in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

But an Ulster Unionist blueprint involving the entire province becoming an enterprise zone and trebling of spending on infrastructure was strongly rejected.

The rebuff came despite the UUP saying it accepted the "democratic wish" following the June referendum to leave the European Union.

In contrast, Stormont's other opposition parties - the SDLP, Alliance and Greens - have launched a court attempt to stymie the decision in relation to Northern Ireland.

Opening the debate, the UUP's Steve Aiken argued: "We have a divided Government, pretending to give a facade of unity but still with no proposals or plans."

He said potential investors would discover the province's universities are underfunded by £55m and "dropping like stones in the global rankings" while 38% of the brightest youngsters are exported each year, along with the second highest costs of energy in western Europe and "appalling" infrastructure.

"Now, we have no plan for Brexit," he went on.

"We need to build a more positive vision. The border between two great economic groupings can provide considerable economic potential. We have a strong case, if made properly, to become an enterprise zone that could harmonise EU/UK trading positions."

But Christopher Stalford of the DUP countered that those who had been on the "Remain" side of the campaign had shown a public display of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

"I welcome that Mr Aiken has been dragged kicking and screaming to the final stage: acceptance. I wish the same could be said for the other opposition parties because there seems to be opposition within the opposition to accepting the outcome of the result," he said.

"Some of our more enthusiastic Europhile friends are still in denial. Some are very, very angry, largely with the people who beat them through argument during the campaign."

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd asked: "Will somebody please draw me a diagram of what Brexit means? To date, no one has been able to confirm what Brexit means.

"Is there a done deal on Brexit? No, there is not. Is there a unified view about Brexit in what is known as the United Kingdom? No, there is not. Is there everything to play for? Of course there is. We are at the start of a journey here," he argued.

Former Executive Minister Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party argued there can still be "some type of special arrangement or status for Northern Ireland, whether that is in terms of preferential access or indeed as a region within the European Union".

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said her party remained determined to prevent NI leaving the EU. "It is our duty to do all we can to prevent this unnecessary change from happening," she added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said at least the UUP had produced a plan while the DUP and Sinn Fein were "pulling in opposite directions".

Green Party leader Steven Agnew claimed the UUP plan for NI to become an enterprise zone involved a deregulation of planning laws. "Those planning functions are there to protect our environment - do we want to protect or deregulate? The two rarely go hand-in-hand."

Belfast Telegraph


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