Trade war between UK-EU would be detrimental to NI businesses, says Derry Chamber boss

A business chief in Northern Ireland has warned that a trade war between the UK and European Union would damage firms across the country.

Derry Chamber Chief Executive, Aidan O’Kane has said that it was “imperative” that any threat of a trade war was taken off the table so that any breakdown in relations does not hurt businesses in Northern Ireland.

Threats of a trade stand-off between the UK and EU come after the Government unveiled its deeply controversial Northern Ireland Bill – legislation that would see parts of the post-Brexit deal scrapped.

Read more: Key points in Northern Ireland Protocol legislation and what happens next in Brexit dispute

It seeks to remove some post-Brexit trade barriers for goods moving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Speaking to MyDerry, Mr O’Kane called for a “negotiated solution” between the UK and EU over the situation, one that would offer hope of a reformed assembly.

He said: “Political instability is damaging business confidence, and any attempt to end the current Stormont impasse is to be welcomed. The UK Government, however, must recognise that the Protocol is working for North West businesses.

“Local traders are reaping the benefits of unique access to UK and EU markets and want to see our new export opportunities maximised, not ended.

“It is imperative that this new legislation has minimal disruption on current trading arrangements, with any new provisions guided by real business concerns, not ideology.

“Our membership surveys have consistently shown widespread support for new GB-NI trading rules.”

He continued: “Last year, 80% of respondents said the Chamber should urge the Executive to take full advantage of Northern Ireland’s unique trading position introduced by the Protocol.

“Prior to this year’s Assembly election, 9% of respondents stated they wanted May’s poll to focus on the Protocol. Overall, businesses have adjusted well to new trading arrangements, and early problems related to supply chain issues have been minimised.

“The overwhelming feeling among North West businesses is that the Protocol is an incredible opportunity. Central Statistics Office statistics show that cross-border trade on this island has jumped by over £2.3bn in 2021.

“Foreign investors are looking to our region as a gateway into two of the world’s leading economic blocs, bringing jobs, infrastructure, and prosperity to our region. And, most importantly, businesses have avoided any major economic disruption caused by Brexit. These advantages have been hard-won and simply cannot afford to be lost.”

© STEPHEN LATIMER PHOTOGRAPHY Derry Chamber of Commerce President Aidan O’Kane

Meanwhile , Brussels has fiercely criticised the UK government for taking unilateral action.

The EU has announced on June 15 that they had began fresh legal action against the UK over their actions to override the current protocol.

The European Commission is also resuming legal proceedings against the UK which were shelved last year to facilitate negotiations on post-Brexit trade.

However, the bloc has insisted its “door remains open” for talks with the UK to find an agreed resolution to the furore over the so-called Irish Sea border.

“North West businesses need a stable, fully functioning Executive and Assembly up-and-running today,” Aidan O’Kane added.

“The Stormont impasse since May’s election has been damaging for investor confidence and, left unresolved, could see key regional priorities like the expansion of Ulster University Magee left in the dark.

“Instead of divisive, unilateral action, we would ask the UK Government to work with the EU and devise a negotiated solution that addresses business concerns whilst also paving the way for an Executive to return.”

Read more: DUP ‘holding out’ until NI Protocol Bill advances says Ian Paisley

Read more: EU phone charger rules will become default across UK despite Brexit, says SDLP’s Claire Hanna

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