Tue 8th Jan 2019
November 2018: There is no doubt that the draft Withdrawal Agreement is a welcome step forward for businesses in Northern Ireland
Ellvena Graham, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
There is no doubt that the draft Withdrawal Agreement is a welcome step forward for businesses in Northern Ireland and it is clearly better than a no deal scenario.
It therefore didn’t take long for business organisations and firms from across the region to show their support for the agreement, and whilst acknowledging that it is by no means perfect, it does however provide a platform to move onto the critical next stage and allows work to begin on the formulation of a comprehensive future trade deal.
Over the past number of months, business groups have been united in the view that a no-deal Brexit would be deeply damaging and would represent a very bad outcome for businesses, consumers and the economy as a whole. In fact, for the first time in history, the national business organisations represented in Northern Ireland – CBI NI, FSB NI, IoD NI and NI Chamber – made a joint statement, in this case welcoming the deal. Trade bodies, NICVA and the Ulster Farmers Union are amongst others who have vocalised their support for the deal and voiced their concerns around a no deal scenario.
With people’s livelihoods and the future prospects for many companies in the balance, we must now move on to the next stage and provide businesses with clarity and precision on the specific terms of trade they will face in the future, many of which are still to be agreed. The avoidance of sudden or multiple changes to trading conditions is crucial to business investment and confidence.
At a recent briefing to NI Chamber members on the deal, which occurred the day after the Withdrawal Agreement was announced, our members raised a number of questions with the Secretary of State Karen Bradley. Last week, approximately 50 Northern Ireland employers and business groups met the Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street to discuss the draft agreement. Yesterday businesses organisations continued their engagement on the Withdrawal Deal via meetings with the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance Party and Green Party. Questions raised at these meetings centred on migration, VAT, the backstop (and any bureaucracy it may bring), whilst also seeking a guarantee from Government that businesses here will still have unfettered access to the rest of the UK.
Businesses acknowledge that this agreement, and the proposed backstop mechanism, are not the intended permanent solutions – and ultimately successful negotiations require compromise. NI Chamber and its members therefore look forward to engaging with government in the next stages of the process as we move towards the future relationship with the EU.