Business leaders: Reaching Brexit deal critically important for NI

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Reaching a Brexit deal is critically important for Northern Ireland, business leaders have said.

They met European negotiators in Brussels on Monday for “useful and constructive” discussions lasting two hours.

Little over a week remains before a heads of state summit which was once supposed to have resolved the vexed Irish border issue.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann McGregor said: “It is clear that no-deal is bad for Northern Ireland businesses, consumers and future job creation.”

The delegation of Northern Ireland businesses was invited to Brussels on Monday by Task Force 50 (TF50) to discuss their version of the Irish border backstop and to have a technical conversation about what this means for businesses who trade throughout the UK, into the EU and internationally.

Task Force 50 is the organisation conducting the EU’s negotiations with the UK.

The backstop is to be introduced if no deal if struck between the EU and UK and has been interpreted by Europe as meaning Northern Ireland continuing to follow EU rules on trade to prevent imposition of a hard border.

The Prime Minister and her DUP allies are opposed to any proposal which would see Northern Ireland’s regulations diverge from those in the rest of the UK, in effect creating trade barriers within the UK.

The UK is expected to table fresh proposals in an effort to break the deadlock soon.

Ms McGregor said: “We had a good constructive conversation and TF50 were able to answer many of our questions.

“We left with some things to think about and challenged TF50 to look at certain areas.”

She added: “We need to see a deal in place and we urge the negotiators on both sides to use the limited time ahead to reach a deal that works not only for the EU and the UK but – critically – for Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland businesses and business representative groups who met with the task force were from agri-food, manufacturing, retail, construction, pharma, freight and services.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium which represents large traders like Tesco, tweeted: “Useful discussions with the EU Task force 50 at their invitation.

“Gives us a much better understanding of EU position on backstop.

“Now we need clarity from UK govt. Backstop is better than no deal.”

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