NI ‘should lure Ir­ish firms seek­ing UK ac­cess af­ter Brexit’

As Theresa May holds talks with Taoiseach in Dublin, lobby group calls for new strat­egy

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

NORTH­ERN Ire­land should fo­cus on at­tract­ing firms from the Repub­lic to set up here, as part of a strat­egy to off­set the im­pact of Brexit on EU trade, a man­u­fac­tur­ing lobby group has said.

Stephen Kelly, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Man­u­fac­tur­ing NI, spoke af­ter Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that help­ing Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May to agree a deal to keep UK-EU trade as close as pos­si­ble would be an “ab­so­lute pri­or­ity” for Ire­land ahead of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The Taoiseach (be­low) held talks with Mrs May in Dublin yes­ter­day, fol­low­ing ear­lier meet­ings be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and the lead­ers of the de­volved na­tions in Cardiff — in­clud­ing DUP leader and former First Min­is­ter Ar­lene Foster, and Sinn Fein North­ern Ire­land leader Michelle O’neill.

Mr Kelly said North­ern Ire­land needed a stronger voice in Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“We need to be speak­ing with one voice in Brexit on what has to be done. Both Wales and Scot­land have pro­duced their pa­pers on Brexit but there is no agreed po­si­tion for North­ern Ire­land.”

And he said one op­tion could be for North­ern Ire­land to en­cour­age firms in the Repub­lic to set up here. “That could be part of a hedg­ing strat­egy by firms so that they can en­sure their ac­cess to the UK mar­ket even af­ter Brexit.

“Yes, we try and at­tract firms from Sil­i­con Val­ley in Cal­i­for­nia, but what about set­ting up clus­ters of Ir­ish firms to ef­fec­tively build Lif­fey Val­ley or Shan­non Val­ley?

“We do want to be good neigh­bours and we want to make sure we work to try and get a good deal, but it does seem that busi­ness is mak­ing de­ci­sions quicker than gov­ern­ment.” He said the strat­egy would be the equiv­a­lent of a North­ern Ire­land firm set­ting up in the Repub­lic to en­sure con­tin­ued ac­cess to the EU — a move taken last week by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm Al­mac,

which an­nounced it was open­ing up an of­fice in Dun­dalk. Set­ting out her strat­egy ear­lier this month, Mrs May strongly hinted that Bri­tain could leave the Euro­pean cus­toms union (CU), stat­ing she wanted “fric­tion­less” cross-border trade, but had an “open mind” on whether it should be done through as­so­ciate mem­ber­ship or a new agree­ment.

Speak­ing af­ter talks with the PM in Dublin, Mr Kenny echoed her lan­guage, sug­gest­ing he would sup­port the strat­egy dur­ing di­vorce talks.

“Our two gov­ern­ments are agreed that a close and fric­tion-free eco­nomic and trad­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Un­tied King­dom and the Euro­pean Union, in­clud­ing Ire­land, is in our very best in­ter­ests,” he told a press con­fer­ence.

Mean­while, US in­vest­ment ad­vi­sor Ron­nie Fore­man has said that Brexit, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity at home and the pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump have con­spired to cre­ate the “big­gest pe­riod of un­cer­tainty” for busi­ness in North­ern Ire­land in decades.

Mr Fore­man, who has helped North­ern Ire­land firms into Amer­i­can mar­kets, said com­pa­nies in the prov­ince should in­creas­ingly “look west” in the post-brexit world.

Ad­dress­ing a sem­i­nar on busi­ness de­vel­op­ment hosted by law firm Cleaver Ful­ton Rankin, he said: “The process for leav­ing, the so-called Brexit, raises more ques­tions than it pro­vides an­swers.

“The timescale for leav­ing, still un­cer­tain, and the great ques­tions of what it will mean to all of us as in­di­vid­u­als and to our var­i­ous busi­ness in­ter­ests, have yet to be clar­i­fied.

“Again and again, we see spec­u­la­tion re­gard­ing th­ese great un­knowns and, when you add the other ma­jor is­sues in­clud­ing the changes in gov­ern­ment in USA and the col­lapse of our own lo­cal Assem­bly, then we are in a vir­tual sea of unan­swered ques­tions.

“The fact of the mat­ter is that how­ever much we want an­swers, we need to wait un­til th­ese mat­ters un­fold.

“Mean­while we face a fu­ture which is largely un­known and un­cer­tain.”

John Mc­grane, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bri­tish Ir­ish Cham­ber of Com­merce, wel­comed yes­ter­day’s dis­cus­sions be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and Taoiseach.

He said he be­lieved Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s speech ear­lier this month, in which she vowed to take the UK out of the sin­gle mar­ket and the cus­toms union, had jolted many firms on both sides of the border from a “state of de­nial” over Brexit. He added how­ever: “The Prime Min­is­ter’s threat to walk away in the event of a ‘ bad deal’ with the EU would be noth­ing short of calami­tous for North­ern Ire­land.”

But NI-NL, a body which en­cour­ages North­ern Ire­land firms to trade with the Nether­lands and vice versa, said both re­gions were fully pre­pared to main­tain trad­ing re­la­tion­ships fol­low­ing Brexit. Ger­ard Wil­son, owner of mould­ings com­pany SAM in Antrim, added that his com­pany would do all in its power to con­tinue its sub­stan­tial trade with the Nether­lands.

“It is clear that there will be un­cer­tainty which could last sev­eral years, and the re­sult of ne­go­ti­a­tions will be out of our con­trol, so we need to fo­cus and play with the cards that we have been cur­rently dealt,” he said.

Wel­comed talks: John Mc­grane

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