Business, farm leaders warn Johnson of negative no-deal effects for NI

New prime minister urged to take a ‘hands-on role’ to reinstate Stormont

Boris Johnson made his way to 10 Downing Street partly on his commitment that he was prepared to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union on the basis of a no-deal.

He repeated on Wednesday in his first speech as prime minister his willingness to see no-deal if the British government can’t arrive at an accommodation with the EU.

Mr Johnson would have been satisfied that the DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose ten MPs are required to keep the new prime minister and his government in power, said on BBC on Wednesday evening that while she too hoped there would be an agreement that she would not reject the prospect of no-deal.

But the message volleyed back to Mr Johnson at speed from the business and farming community in the North is that the last thing Northern Ireland needs is a no-deal Brexit.


The prospect of World Trade Organisation tariffs threatening businesses, farming and jobs invigorated Northern Ireland business leaders to strongly warn the new British prime minister to avoid such an exit from Europe.

The vehemence with which business and industry made their point was reinforced by the report earlier this month from the Stormont economy department which warned of a possible loss of 40,000 jobs in Northern Ireland if the UK crashed out of the EU.


Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Mr Johnson was taking up office at a time of “deep frustration” for the business community.

“Companies want to see a pro-business approach from the offset. Specifically, he must deliver a sensible and pragmatic plan to break the Brexit impasse, demonstrating that the new government is fully committed to avoiding a messy and disorderly exit on October 31st,” said Ms McGregor.

“Whilst there is absolutely no appetite for a no-deal exit, the government must simultaneously step-up and provide businesses with the urgent support they need to plan for all scenarios,” she added.

Ms McGregor said a firm commitment to help reinstate the Stormont powersharing institutions was required. “As a matter of priority, the prime minister must do everything possible to see the institutions restored. The stakes are high – and swift and decisive action is needed,” she added.

‘Not an option’

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and other agricultural-related organisations have warned previously that no-deal could threaten the North's £1.3 billion (€1.4 billion) beef and farm industry, as well as the dairy and other farm industries. The UFU president Ivor Ferguson advised Mr Johnson that his organisation had "continually stressed that leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland's farming community".

It was the same message from Retail NI and its chief executive Glyn Roberts. "A no-deal is simply not an option that should even be considered given the economic devastation it would cause Northern Ireland with the loss of 40,000 jobs," he said.

“Mr Johnson should take a hands-on role with the current political talks to restore devolution. We cannot continue much longer without a functioning government given the huge challenges ahead with education, business rates and Infrastructure investment,” he added.

Tina McKenzie, chairwoman of the North’s Federation of Small Business, said it was “absolutely crucial that we leave with a deal to avoid unnecessary economic harm, which would be deeply disruptive to our economy and society, leading to restrictive tariffs and potential checks on goods”.

“Restoration of the Assembly and the Executive should also be a high priority, with continued uncertainty and lack of decision making affecting businesses. There is a need for action to enhance skills, improve infrastructure and boost business support,” she added.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director of Confederation of British Industry, taking a general UK-wide view, said that business needed three things in the first 100 days of Mr Johnson's premiership: a Brexit deal that unlocks confidence; clear signals the UK is open for business; and a truly pro-enterprise vision for our country."

“On Brexit, the new prime minister must not underestimate the benefits of a good deal. It will unlock new investment and confidence in factories and boardrooms across the country,” she added.


Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times