The prospect of a no-deal Brexit is leading to new inward investment decisions in the North being put on hold, industry sources suggest.
Northern Ireland’s regional business development agency, Invest NI, has declined to comment on whether it has been in discussions with organisations where this has happened. It is understood however that one company in particular had considered locating a new operation in Belfast but parked its decision until after next March, when the UK is due to leave the EU.
A spokeswoman for Invest NI said: “Companies make investment decisions based on commercial and economic factors. These decisions will be unique to each business and would be commercially sensitive.
“For this reason we do not comment on speculation about potential investors, or the status of any potential investment.”
But Angela McGowan, director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), in the North said fear over a no-deal Brexit was “having a major impact on investment decisions here in Northern Ireland”.
Ms McGowan said: “We know for certain that a number of companies located in the region have already seen investment halted, with international headquarters unwilling to commit until further assurances about continued access to European markets and supply chains are provided.”
She said chief executives have warned that a no-deal outcome would “force large foreign-owned businesses in Northern Ireland to press ahead with contingency plans, including ramping up their European operations and running down Northern Ireland plants”.
Ms McGowan said the impact of such divestment “cannot be over-stated”, adding the businesses believe “enough is enough”.
“The political infighting of the past 30 months must finally be put to bed. It’s time to focus minds on getting a clear route through the deadlock - people didn’t vote for prolonged economic chaos,” Ms McGowan said.
Invest NI says its “sales proposition” for Northern Ireland, despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and what the North’s position may be after March 2019, is unchanged and “has always been based on the combination of talent and value”.
A spokeswoman for Invest NI said: “Our pipeline of foreign investment opportunities remains strong, and last year was one of our highest years for the number of companies choosing to locate in Northern Ireland”.
But Stephen Kelly, chief executive of the campaign organisation, Manufacturing NI – one of the business bodies in the North who backed Theresa May's Brexit deal – said he is aware that many firms already located in the North are "sitting tight" and not making investments at this time.
Mr Kelly said: “I know from the banks that they are holding unprecedented amounts of cash which would have ordinarily been used to invest in new facilities equipment or market development.
“That’s a big problem for manufacturing where firms invest to recover the cost of that investment over twenty years or more, so every year delayed is a year closer to that business closing.
“Uncertainty is now transforming into worry and all this talk of no deal is making that more severe.”