Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Simon Hamilton's no-deal alert discomfits DUP

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

Editor's Viewpoint

The views of Simon Hamilton, the new chief executive of Belfast Chamber, the voice of business in the city, will make uncomfortable reading for his former colleagues in the DUP. He said a no-deal Brexit has the potential to do untold damage to the Northern Ireland economy and argued that the current withdrawal agreement including the controversial backstop is preferable to crashing out of the EU.

Such a view is diametrically opposed to the stance of the DUP, which strongly supports changing the withdrawal agreement, or else going for no-deal.

Mr Hamilton, a former Stormont Economy Minister, brought commonsense realism to the Brexit debate. Business, he said, needs an orderly withdrawal from the EU to enable companies to prepare for life outside the EU and changed trading arrangements.

Questions exercising business leaders include hiring and retaining staff, attracting investment, accessing finance and how continued uncertainty will affect consumer spending.

He pointed out that 78% of members of the Chamber supported Theresa May's withdrawal deal when it was first proposed because it gave a degree of certainty, which is what businesses want. With Northern Ireland firmly against Brexit in any form it is hardly surprising that businesses are fearful for the future because they don't know what the impact of any deal, never mind a no-deal, will be.

The turmoil at Westminster and the Prime Minister's determination to leave the EU on October 31 come what may has increased those fears.

That causes a problem for the DUP, which strongly supports Boris Johnson's views.

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It is a high risk game hitching its fortune to the Prime Minister whose behaviour is, at best, mercurial and who, after appearing at the DUP's annual conference pledging to support its opposition to the backstop, then voted for it in the House of Commons.

And, of course, the toxicity of the Brexit debate in Northern Ireland and elsewhere has made the likelihood of devolved government returning to Stormont even more remote. As Mr Hamilton noted, there is much a power-sharing Executive could do to improve the local economy.

Any sensible administration would seek a compromise on the backstop - perhaps making it time-limited - but relationships between the UK and EU have been soured, perhaps terminally.

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