O’Neill: NI businesses urgently need Brexit clarity

Businesses and officials in Northern Ireland need “urgent clarity” as they prepare for Brexit, Stormont’s deputy first minister has warned.

Michelle O’Neill said Stormont departments were facing “significant challenges’ in readying themselves for the departure and added she did not want to see disruption to any local businesses, including those trading with Great Britain.

However, she welcomed the intensification of negotiations between Britain and the EU, expressing her hope that they would reach a conclusion this week.

Ms O’Neill said that Stormont would continue its “operational readiness plan” in preparation for Brexit and added: “The key challenge is the urgent clarity needed to implement the protocol.

“It is clear that time is running out and it appears that things are edging closer.

“It is about time that businesses had this clarity.”

She said she hoped that clarity would come this week and predicted a future “legislative burden” on Assembly members.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said the two main sticking points in the negotiations remain level playing field trading arrangements and fishing rights.

From January, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU single market for goods but the rest of the UK will leave.

That will mean a range of new checks, controls and red tape on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the withdrawal agreement, is being overseen by a Joint Committee of the EU and the UK.

It is separate from the UK-EU trade negotiation.