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Editor's Viewpoint

Executive must now focus on ways to kickstart economy

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson rarely lets his ebullient image falter and he was certainly in an upbeat mood in the article he wrote for this newspaper today.

Perhaps he felt there was little to be gained by concentrating on the bad news which including revelations that the UK has plunged into the worst recession in the developed world apart from Spain and the fears that recovery could take many years even though there has been a modest bounce-back in the past month.

Instead, he lavished praise on the people of Northern Ireland for pulling together in fighting to contain Covid-19, even managing to compare it to the late John Hume's lifelong promotion of cross-community co-operation.

He was also keen to promote his own small 'u' unionism by revealing that the Treasury will help fund a programme of events to mark next year's centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland.

However it must be acknowledged that his government has been generous in its funding of economic support measures in the face of the pandemic which included furloughing around 250,000 workers, supplying nearly five million items of PPE and money to keep Belfast and Londonderry airports open as air travel collapsed.

He did not miss the opportunity to say this showed how the UK, acting as one Union, could meet challenges which a single member could not meet alone.

That could well be interpreted as a rebuke to the Scottish nationalists and and republicans in Northern Ireland who see their respective independence campaigns as achievable in the medium term, possibly within a decade

Mr Johnson will today talk about what he calls the "unique freedoms" Northern Ireland will enjoy when the UK finally severs its links with the European Union at the end of this year. He is obviously determined to press ahead with this timetable which makes finding a soft exit deal very difficult to achieve.

His forecast of Brexit opportunities for the province will bring a wry smile to the lips of his many critics here. They will recall his pledge to the DUP of no border in the Irish Sea only to return to London and almost immediately agree to just such a frontier.

Whatever message he likes to deliver the Prime Minister cannot ignore the reality of the economic black hole which faces the UK. This is the worst recession in its history and his own Chancellor yesterday admitted many more people will lose their jobs before the situation begins to improve.

Local economist Dr Esmond Birnie points out that it took NI seven years to recover from the 2008-9 crash and has forecast that recovery this time around could take at least five years - a figure some might regard as optimistic.

Nevertheless we cannot simply wallow in a slough of despair and the important work for the Executive now is to find new ways of regenerating the economy. Our efforts at containing Covid-19 were the best in the UK and that should be used to persuade investors to set up business here. Maximising staycations, smarter and more efficient working practices and putting greater emphasis on vocational training for young people are minimum requirements.

The PM admits the Executive faces serious challenges and will require cohesive government to surmount those problems. Businesses, too, must become more innovative and not depend on government continuing to bail out significant numbers of them. That would only deepen the recession.

Belfast Telegraph