Business in NI ready to back Northern Ireland-only backstop

Manufacturing NI: Bottom line is that businesses everywhere in the North ‘want a deal’

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the UK ‘will not accept a Northern Ireland only backstop’. Photograph: Getty

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the UK ‘will not accept a Northern Ireland only backstop’. Photograph: Getty

 

Manufacturing firms in the North would overwhelmingly support a Northern Ireland-only backstop if it prevents a no-deal Brexit, according to the chief executive of one of the North’s largest business organisations.

Stephen Kelly from Manufacturing NI said the prospect of a Northern Ireland-only backstop, which the new EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan has suggested should be revisited, would be supported if guaranteed that the UK would not crash out of the EU without a deal.

British prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the UK “will not accept a Northern Ireland only backstop”.

But Mr Kelly said the bottom line is that businesses everywhere in the North “want a deal”.

“Without one we are facing a massive problem, Northern Ireland will sink below the waterline,” he warned.

Mr Kelly, together with the leaders of two other industry groups in the North, Hospitality Ulster and Retail NI, chose Westminster on Wednesday as the backdrop for the launch of a new Northern Ireland business alliance, Trade NI, that aims to provide a “louder voice” for the businesses community in the North.

Mr Kelly, Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster and Glyn Roberts, head of Retail NI, also published what they described as a “10-year prosperity plan” for the North, which based on a soft Brexit, sets out ambitions to create 65,000 additional jobs by 2030.

They planned to give Mr Johnson a copy of their “Vision 2030” at a reception in Downing Street on Wednesday evening.

Trade NI’s 10-year plan sets out several key policy priorities which outlines how Northern Ireland could “make the most of its unique position” to become a “unique gateway in Europe” if the UK leaves the EU with a deal in place.

Decisions must be made

It proposes for example the creation of a new cross border enterprise zone in Newry and calls for investment in infrastructure and the North’s skills base.

But it is according to Mr Kelly “all dependent on the UK leaving the EU with a deal”.

If this does not happen then it raises the prospect of a different scenario and one where business leaders in the North would, he says, want key decisions about the Northern Ireland economy “made at Westminster” if they cannot be made at Stormont.

Mr Kelly said business leaders are not advocating a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland but he believes if the “worst alternative” were to happen then there must be a “structure” in place to protect the Northern Ireland economy.

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