NI businesses need Brexit clarity – O’Neill

PA

Businesses in Northern Ireland need clarity around Brexit, a Stormont leader has said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she was closely watching the culmination of the trade talks between the UK and the EU.

Boris Johnson has warned that negotiations with the European Union on a deal were proving “very tricky” ahead of a crunch meeting with Brussels’ top official.

Ms O’Neill said: “Four-and-a-half years after the Brexit debate started our businesses, individuals and partners and society does not have clarity around what happens next.

“That clarity must be achieved.

“It is the only way that people can plan for the future.”

Talks have faltered on the issues of fishing rights, the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies, and the way that any deal would be governed.

Sinn Fein vice-president Ms O’Neill added: “We remain vigilant throughout today and tomorrow as we await the outcome of talks.”

The Prime Minister said he was still hopeful about reaching a deal but it was proving “very, very difficult” to make progress.

Later this week, Mr Johnson will head to Brussels for face-to-face talks with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in an attempt to salvage a deal, with time running out before the current trading arrangements expire at the end of the month.

A total of 32 business and civic organisations in Northern Ireland have come together to call for an agreement.

They include retailers, trade unionists, farmers, industrialists and members of the hospitality industry.

They said: “We want to remind them of their commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, notably in the preamble to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“The conclusion of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with customs facilitations is essential to avoiding expensive post-transition trade frictions for Northern Ireland which will make our businesses less competitive, will lead to job losses and cause cost rises that will affect the most economically vulnerable in our society.”

The business leaders added: “Our households have less than half of the discretionary income of Great Britain households so these cost rises will be a standard of living issue.”

The Protocol is designed to keep Northern Ireland following some of the EU Single Market rules on goods and prevent the establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

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