Call for ‘leadership’ at east Antrim Brexit event

East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson (right) welcomes guest to the business breakfast in Carrickfergus Golf Club.
East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson (right) welcomes guest to the business breakfast in Carrickfergus Golf Club.

Direct rule would not solve the problems Northern Ireland faces, east Antrim business figures have been told.

Alliance Deputy leader Dr Stephen Farry made the claim during an Brexit-themed breakfast hosted by the party at Carrickfergus Golf Club on Friday.

Dr Farry said Brexit will have a “profound effect on Northern Ireland” within the United Kingdom and spoke of the need to remain in the Single Market, or at least in a Customs Union, and the potential for a special arrangement for Northern Ireland.

He went on to emphasise the need for a functioning Executive to ensure Northern Ireland’s best interests are properly represented at UK and EU level and warned that Direct Rule 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”.

Business owners, employers and party members also heard from Gareth Hetherington, Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre.

He explained 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.

The theme of ‘Brexit’ was introduced by East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson who went on to call on the two main parties to end the “artificial crisis”, as “Northern Ireland needs leadership, not tired political slogans and games”.

Mr Dickson added: “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.”