Alliance East Antrim MLA, Stewart Dickson, hailed the 2017 East Antrim Alliance Business Breakfast as “a great success”.
Mr Dickson welcomed business owners, employers and Alliance Party members from all across the constituency and Northern Ireland, to the breakfast, which focused on the issue of Brexit, and the progress made so far. Guest speakers at the breakfast were: Gareth Hetherington, Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, and Dr Stephen Farry MLA former Employment & Learning Minister, and Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party.
The theme of ‘Brexit’ was introduced by Mr Dickson as he emphasised the potential effects it will have on Northern Ireland, with a focus on Northern Irish Businesses. He ended his speech with a call on the two main parties to end the ‘artificial crisis’, as ‘Northern Ireland needs leadership, not tired political slogans and games’.
Mr Dickson paired his message of Northern Ireland’s need for representation in Exit Negotiations with a message of hope. “One of the reasons Northern Ireland voted Remain is that we understood how much the European Union benefitted us, in infrastructure, agriculture and other development support. Going forward, Westminster will need to make up this support, and likely do even more – something needs to change, Northern Ireland should not be allowed to continue to stagnate.”
Gareth Hetherington, Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy, gave an in depth presentation of the state of Brexit negotiations and predictions for the future.
He commented that there are many challenges associated with Brexit, and in the short to medium term there were multiple risks to the Northern Ireland economy. However there are also potential benefits that could be realised in the longer term.
Mr Hetherington also suggested that although talks have appeared to be fractious and confrontational, under the surface, the UK Government, the EU Commission and Member States, are likely to be taking a much softer and conciliatory approach. Furthermore, although the EU has the upper hand in discussions, it is ultimately not in their interest to risk the economic recovery of the group, with the shock and difficulty that a bad trade deal with the UK may bring.
Alliance Party Deputy Leader, Dr Stephen Farry, gave an engaging speech about the particular issues that face Northern Ireland in Brexit negotiations. Dr Farry said Brexit will have a “profound effect on Northern Ireland” within the United Kingdom. He highlighted the need to remain in the Single Market, or at least in a Customs Union, and the potential need for a special arrangement for Northern Ireland.
He concluded by emphasising the need for a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland, to ensure that Northern Ireland’s best interests are properly represented at UK and EU level. He also pointed out that Direct Rule would not solve the problems we face, and would “risk Northern Ireland being subject to a ‘one size fits all’ economic strategy directed in and for London and the South East of England.”