A former DUP economy minister who swapped politics for business in the North has warned people in positions of “power and influence” in Belfast, London, Dublin and Brussels that “the time for games and stunts is well and truly over”.
Simon Hamilton, who recently became the chief executive of Belfast Chamber for Trade and Commerce, said 86 per cent of the business organisation's members are opposed to a no-deal Brexit because "they know that it would have catastrophic consequences for the entire economy of Northern Ireland".
He was speaking at Belfast Chamber's annual lunch on Wednesday, which was attended by Tánaiste Simon Coveney and the president of Dublin Chamber, Niall Gibbons.
“Patience, thin as it was, has run out. Businesses have consistently and clearly spelt out their desire to see a deal done,” he stressed.
Mr Hamilton, who was the last Northern Ireland Minister for the Economy before the Assembly collapsed and also a finance and health minister in the North, said Brexit is “essentially a political problem but the impact on our economy has been profound”.
Mr Hamilton said the “parliamentary games and stunts” which have been an ongoing feature of the Brexit process “offer businesses who depend on certainty and stability no comfort at all”.
Mr Hamilton told a 300-strong audience that the focus for this year’s annual lunch was about boosting business links between Belfast and Dublin not because of Brexit but because Belfast Chamber firmly believes that the “relationship” between the two cities is especially important at this time.
“Regardless of how Brexit pans out it is important to the economies on both sides of the Border that we maintain and grow those connections that have been so carefully nurtured in recent years.
"The latest HMRC statistics show that Northern Ireland exports to the Republic are worth £3.2 billion (€3.7 billion) with InterTradeIreland reporting earlier this year that the level of goods traded across the Irish Border is at an all-time high. And the Belfast – Dublin corridor is at the heart of that," Mr Hamilton said.
He said Belfast Chamber wanted to continue to support and help grow cross-border trade and is actively exploring opportunities with Dublin Chamber to work together to boost business links between the two cities.