Northern Ireland an ‘attractive location for US firms accessing EU and UK’

Northern Ireland will be an attractive location for US firms seeking access to EU and UK markets after Brexit, the First Minister has said.

Businesses there will have unfettered access to the rest of the UK and frictionless trade with the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU next year.

That created opportunities and benefits, DUP leader Arlene Foster said.

Prime Minister Theresa May visits Belfast
Prime Minister Theresa May visits Belfast

She added: “If businesses are from America and looking for access to the UK single market and access to the EU single market then Northern Ireland seems to be a very good place.”

Several US and multinational fintech firms already have major bases in Northern Ireland.

Politicians and business promotion bodies have concentrated a lot of effort on attracting inward investment from across the Atlantic.

From January, Northern Ireland will remain in the UK customs territory but will be able to trade freely across the land border with the Irish Republic and the rest of the EU.

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, the region has to apply EU customs rules at its ports.

That means tariffs would be collected on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they were due for onward transportation to the Republic.

The DUP opposed the protocol but Mrs Foster said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 80-seat House of Commons majority meant her MPs could not thwart the agreement.

Michelle O'Neill, Boris Johnson and Arlene Foster
Michelle O'Neill, Boris Johnson and Arlene Foster

She told the Stormont Assembly: “This First Minister will not be found wanting when there is work to do to try and mitigate against the worst excesses of the EU and the protocol.”

She noted businesses in Northern Ireland wanted secure post-Brexit access to their main market of Great Britain.

“Of course we will take any benefits that flow from the protocol (in access to the EU single market),” she said.

“It has been a very difficult period for us all in relation to this.”

The UK and Canada have agreed a deal to continue trading under the same terms as the current EU agreement after the Brexit transition period ends.

Britain and Japan have also signed a commerce agreement where nearly all exports to Japan will be tariff-free and British levies on Japanese cars will be removed by 2026.

Mrs Foster said: “It is important to look at access to UK trade deals.

“Those deals are beginning to become a reality.”

She added that “further clarity” was needed on implementation of the protocol agreed last week between the British Government and European Commission.

The First Minister hoped separate Brexit negotiations would bring about a free trade agreement between the UK and EU.

“We are watching very closely how those negotiations take place,” she said.

“I think there are many opportunities to be had from leaving the EU and all of the regulations imposed upon us by the unaccountable European Commission.

“I look forward to taking up those opportunities.”

She added: “It would be much better if we had a negotiated settlement.”