Prime Minister Theresa May
Business leaders have called on the First and Deputy First Ministers to have “meaningful and structural engagement” with the community as they draw up a plan to deal with the UK leaving the European Union.
It follows a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May written by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness in which they express concerns about the possible impact of Brexit on the Northern Ireland economy, describing the £4.5bn agri-food sector as “uniquely vulnerable” to the loss of EU funds and the introduction of trade barriers.
The letter said that it was critical to the economy that Northern Ireland businesses did not incur additional costs.
They also raised worries about the border and energy costs.
Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association described the letter as an “accurate assessment” of the business community’s position.
“It identifies the immediate issues that need to be addressed, but what we need now is a real plan and business should be not just consulted but structurally engaged in the process. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is engaging widely with business and wider civic society on Brexit.
“Politicians need to get confidence back in the economy and I would like to see a stimulus plan from Stormont. For example, they could go forward with our proposal, along with Hospitality Ulster, for a rates relief scheme for the tourism and hospitality trade. That would be a start and would help to boost the economy.”
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the letter was “welcome recognition that we face very real risks resulting from special circumstances”.
But he added: “While many of the areas of particular concern are covered, areas such as the threat to third level education, research and development are not covered, nor is the need to take action now to stimulate the economy and build confidence. Hopefully this is the first concrete step to agree a bespoke plan for the region.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union said politicians and farmers “must not underestimate the challenges” of Brexit. Although many farmers supported the Leave campaign, there are fears that the withdrawal of EU subsidies and the imposition of tariffs could have a negative impact.
In their letter to Theresa May, the First and Deputy First Ministers said that 10% of the money the UK receives from Europe under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) comes to Northern Ireland.
In a statement, the Ulster Farmers’ Union said that it welcomed the recognition by the ministers of the crucial importance of the agriculture and food industry.
“It is important we do not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead as the UK plans its exit from the European Union, but we must be open to the possibility that this could present us with opportunities,” said the UFU.
The UFU said it had taken part in the first of a series of meetings with the agriculture and economy ministers here.