Top NI hotelier calls for debate on second Brexit vote

Industry giants say draft withdrawal agreement ‘better than crashing out’ of EU

Bombardier factory in Belfast: Canadian aerospace giant which employs more than 4,000 people in the city says the UK’s draft withdrawal agreement is an “important step forward”. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Bombardier factory in Belfast: Canadian aerospace giant which employs more than 4,000 people in the city says the UK’s draft withdrawal agreement is an “important step forward”. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

 

The draft Brexit agreement is “better than crashing out” of the European Union but “not as good as remaining in it”, says Northern hotelier Howard Hastings.

Dr Hastings, whose family own the Culloden and the Europa hotels in Belfast and a half-share in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, believes there should be more debate on a second Brexit vote.

The agreement, which is opposed by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, leaves businesses subject to potential regulation “over which you have no say”, he said. Some may not like remaining under EU regulations as part of the deal “but at least you have a voice”, he added.

“The deal is better than nothing but not as good as withdrawing article 50 [the EU law invoking the UK’s exit],” the businessman said.

“Business has been keen to seize on the first part of that sentence but not on the second part. In the long-term interests of the country, people have to work out is this the best we can get – is it better than what we have today? That assumes that the only option is leaving without a deal.”

He believes there has been “insufficient debate” on “going back to square one” – a people’s vote that would include a vote on article 50, as one of three options.

People’s vote

It could be a single transferable vote, he said, with the “least popular option knocked out” and the transferred votes then counted for the other two options.

The DUP and Northern Irish business groups have clashed over the Brexit agreement, backed by UK prime minister Theresa May. DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused business representative groups of “dancing to the government’s tune” and of being “puppets of the Northern Ireland Office”.

Dr Hastings declined to comment on the dispute, beyond saying that “business has made its voice heard”.

The Canadian aerospace giant, Bombardier, which employs more than 4,000 people in Belfast, has declared its support for the UK’s draft withdrawal agreement describing it as an “important step forward”.

The company, which is one of the North’s largest private sector employers, has steadfastly warned that Brexit could pose a threat to its operations on a number of different levels. It is currently in the process of axing 5,000 jobs worldwide.

Bombardier and Coca-Cola

On Tuesday, the Canadian group added its influential voice to an increasing number of businesses and organisations in the North backing Mrs May’s draft withdrawal agreement.

“Bombardier will welcome a withdrawal agreement and transition arrangement that provides assurances for frictionless trade as the United Kingdom exits the European Union. The draft withdrawal agreement proposed by the government forms a basis for this and is an important step forward,” a spokesperson in Belfast said.

Other major investors in the North such as Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland, which has invested £93.5 million (€105.2 million) in its manufacturing plant at Knockmore Hill in Co Antrim, acknowledged that the UK’s EU divorce document has secured strong support from many firms across the North even at this early stage. “Coca-Cola HBC Ireland & Northern Ireland fully supports the views of business organisations in Northern Ireland, which have welcomed the draft EU/UK withdrawal agreement,” a spokesperson said.