‘Don’t let Brexit throw us off course’ - CBI Northern Ireland Annual Lunch

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  • Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, reflected on decades of success for the Northern Ireland economy and the importance of not letting Brexit throw the region off course at the sell-out CBI Northern Ireland Annual Lunch this afternoon (Thursday).

    Attending the lunch at Titanic Belfast, Carolyn called on the Northern Ireland business community to keep focused on doing what they do best, promoting innovation and entrepreneurialism. She also reminded guests to celebrate the great strides made in sectors like cybersecurity, the creative industries, agri-tech and aerospace – industries that provide a real platform for the jobs of tomorrow. 

    Addressing a number of issues critical to the Northern Irish business community, Carolyn urged business and political leaders to build on the progress of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and the era of peace, prosperity and opportunity that it ushered in for everyone in Northern Ireland. Topics included:

    • Brexit transition arrangements – providing additional breathing room for dialogue and avoiding the cliff edge scenario which would cause so much uncertainty for businesses 
    • The Irish Border – the importance of maintaining an open border that protects vital cross-border trade and allows people to remain connected with friends, relatives and communities
    • The importance of the all-island market – particularly pressing ahead with key cross border projects like the North/South electricity interconnector
    • Rights of EU citizens – protecting the rights of those who contribute so much to the economy ensuring that businesses in Northern Ireland can continue to attract the talent they need to fill roles across all skill levels
    • Political deadlock at all levels of government – the need to get the Executive back up and running and to make swift and substantive progress in EU negotiations

    Carolyn was joined by Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times, and broadcaster, writer and journalist Declan Curry. The event was sponsored by First Trust Bank (Strategic Partner) and Rainbow Communications (Corporate Partner).  

    Speaking at the event Des Moore, Head of First Trust Bank said:

    “The number one priority for economy in Northern Ireland remains getting the Executive back up and running as soon as possible. Across our specialist business hubs throughout Northern Ireland, we see businesses day and daily who are continuing to do what they do best – buy, sell, invest and grow – adopting very much ‘a business as usual’ approach – almost despite the current political situation and uncertainty that abounds around Brexit.

    “While that’s admirable and a sign of the ‘can do’ attitude that is typical here in Northern Ireland, there is no doubt that the wider economy and our long-term success needs a functioning government and executive to take forward the many economic priorities we have – whether around skills, infrastructure, corporation tax, inward investment – and an agreed position on Brexit given the special circumstances we are likely to face. We are delighted to join with the CBI and the wider business community today to discuss these important issues and to call for progress and proactivity at this critical time.” 

    On Brexit, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said:

    “Back in March, CBI president Paul Drechsler warned of the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of economic consequences which would come from ‘no deal’.

    “And in July, I gave a lecture on Brexit at the London School of Economics, arguing that – during a transition period – the UK should stay in the single market and a customs union.

    “At the time, that was quite revolutionary.

    “But last month – that’s basically what the Prime Minister agreed to.

    “And we will do all we can to hold them to it and build the will to achieve it across the EU.

    “It just shows that if business speaks up it can make a difference to the choices we make as a country, putting prosperity ahead of politics.”

    On political deadlock, Carolyn said:

    “What we see right now – in Stormont, Westminster and Brussels – is political deadlock. This needs to change – and fast.

    “On Brexit – the people of Northern Ireland need a voice. Politicians need to be back in Stormont making sure the voice of business and prosperity is heard.

    “Those outstanding issues which have led to the collapse of the local Executive need to be resolved by political representatives as soon as possible.

    “Because the impact of having no Executive is being felt acutely across Northern Ireland’s business community.

    “This really matters – because Northern Ireland’s situation is unique.”

    On the issue of the Irish Border, Carolyn said:

    “Whoever I speak to – in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, in Westminster, in Brussels – everyone agrees. Peace and prosperity go hand in hand.

    “No-one wants a return to the past. And no-one wants a hard border.

    “With over three billion pounds of goods and services exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic each year, the importance of keeping an open, frictionless border between Ireland and Northern Ireland cannot be overstated.

    “It’s also fundamental that the 13 billion pounds worth of sales from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK are allowed to flow freely.

    “That means no barriers and no delays.

    “For the people of Northern Ireland borders of any description, East-West or North-South are simply not an option.”

    On the rights of EU citizens, Carolyn said:

    “One week after the referendum – on 30th June last year – the CBI called for a guarantee for EU citizens working in the UK.

    “Yet – over the past 500 days and counting – their situation has slowly moved from regrettable, to disgraceful, to downright intolerable.

    “How can the United Kingdom claim to be an open, caring country – while also gambling these people’s futures at the negotiating table?

    “Recently – we have seen some progress. Last week, the Prime Minister claimed that a deal on citizens’ rights was ‘within touching distance’.

    “These are great words. Now let’s get it over the line.

    “It’s so important that companies across the UK can continue to hire people from across Europe.”

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