Rishi Sunak says companies are ‘queueing up’ to invest in NI
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Rishi Sunak’s triumph in securing a Brexit deal should “not be underestimated” say business chiefs – who welcomed the “positive impact” it will bring to Britain’s economic prospects. In a show of support for the Prime Minister’s hard-won settlement, prominent leaders praised the Windsor Framework and predicted greater prosperity on the back of a more “level playing field” with the EU.
Mr Sunak has described the pact over goods crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland as an “historic and decisive breakthrough”.
Dozens of industry bosses, led by Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden, agree.
Business leaders who signed an unprecedented letter heralding the deal include Paul Drechsler, chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, former Siemens UK chief executive Jürgen Maier, Bank of London group chief executive Anthony Watson, and John Neill, executive chairman of Unipart.
They wrote: “For businesses and their customers, struggling in difficult trading conditions, this deal represents welcome pragmatism from all sides and upholds the level playing field with our closest and largest trading partners.”
The 78 leaders continued: “We welcome the successful conclusion of UK/EU negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol and voice our support for the settlement that has been reached.
“This agreement will be of greatest significance to the people of Northern Ireland but its positive impact for businesses large and small in every corner of the country, and for the UK economy as a whole, should not be underestimated.
“It demonstrates what is possible when we engage in constructive dialogue and work in the common interest with our European neighbours.”
The statement added: “It can and should mark the beginning of a new chapter in UK/EU relations, one built on trust, mutual respect, and shared prosperity.”
Tony Danker, CBI director-general, said: “This breakthrough will allow businesses and politicians to turn their attention to economic growth and delivering greater prosperity for everyone across Northern Ireland.
“Work to understand and successfully implement new arrangements should start immediately. Working together we can make this deal work and help Northern Ireland to thrive.”
Agreement opens the door to a new era of cordial relations between Britain and Brussels, one set to turbocharge UK business by slashing needless red tape.
Julian Jessop, Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, warned that doom-mongers still hoped the wheels would fall off.
Writing for the Daily Express, the respected economist said: “Opponents of Brexit will seize any opportunity to keep the whole of the UK closely aligned with EU rules. But the new proposals at least deserve a chance.”
Sterling rallied against all major currencies after the deal and there was renewed optimism that the post-Brexit landscape is a golden opportunity for British manufacturing to dominate the world again.
The UK remains the ninth largest manufacturing nation with annual output close to £200billion.
Since Britain quit the bloc, 160-year-old precision metal stamping firm Brandauer has seen its fortunes soar.
The Birmingham family outfit has secured more than £1million of new business with clients in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Slovakia.
Rowan Crozier, chief executive, said: “We have invested heavily in technology and our staff to ensure we can offer prices that rival China and quality that matches, if not surpasses, our fierce competitors in the EU.
“Despite the challenges, UK advanced manufacturing and innovation are in good health and we remain an attractive partner to international customers and a growing number of domestic firms.
“We have a long list of opportunities for bringing tooling into the UK, but we need the skills to do it. That’s why we’ve teamed up with In-Comm Training to deliver a £1m precision tooling academy that will train engineers to become toolmakers on live commercial projects.”
The pact effectively ends two years of border trade chaos. Naomi Smith, chief executive of campaigners Best for Britain, said: “By breaking down barriers with our closest neighbours, we can provide businesses across the UK with the certainty and stability they desperately need.”
She added: “We should all welcome the flexibility shown by both the EU and UK in the interests of providing stability for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Central to the deal is re-entry to Horizon Europe, the EU’s £85billion science programme that will future-proof UK science and technology and unleash the potential for disease-beating research.
Prof Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society scientific academy, said: “We need to swiftly secure access to the EU’s international research programmes.”
He said two years of delays “have damaged science across Europe. These schemes support outstanding international collaboration and the sooner we join them, the better for everyone.
“The Government has stated the UK is more committed than ever to strong research collaboration.
“In light of the recent return to the Treasury of a £1.6billion underspend that was intended for association to Horizon Europe, it is reassuring that Treasury sources are now reported as saying that the money will be spent.”
The CBI said: “Resolving the deadlock over the Northern Ireland Protocol marks a historic moment.
“We’re not just talking about tweaks to the original agreement – there are substantive changes that will take some time to digest, and we’re gathering feedback from our members.
“But business stands ready to work with all stakeholders to make a success of this deal.”
Goodfellow Ltd, manufacturer, and supplier of specialist metals and materials, welcomed the UK’s potential return to Horizon Europe.
The Huntingdon firm has more than 6,000 customers worldwide, is heavily involved in research and development, and says the move may bridge a potentially difficult period for the sector.
Dr Aphrodite Tomou, its head of technical, said: “The UK is full of fantastic companies and universities who want to innovate and push the boundaries of technology.
“This will certainly be more achievable if we are collaborating with our European partners and tapping into the programme.
“Any decision that accelerates innovation and brings it closer to our shores should be welcomed.”
Danny McCoy, chief executive of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, said: “As economic challenges continue to impact business sentiment the announcement [of the deal] will bring much-needed certainty for businesses across the all-island economy.
“The protocol must now be supported through close collaboration between business and government in Northern Ireland, Ireland, Britain, and the European Union.”
Attention will now turn to President Joe Biden’s trip to Northern Ireland next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement as the possibility of a landmark transatlantic trade deal between Britain and the US moves ever closer.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said yesterday: “The British people made a decision [to leave the EU] in 2016 and we are seeing the benefits of that decision.”
The proposed Windsor Framework is an improvement on the existing Northern Ireland Protocol and should ease the uncertainty that has held back investment across the whole United Kingdom.
The Protocol created a new border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
This allowed Northern Ireland easier access to the EU’s single market for goods but bound it to the bloc’s rules, while splitting the UK.
The Windsor Framework will tackle these challenges in three ways.
First, it will replace the border in the Irish Sea with a system of “green” and “red” lanes, where fewer goods will be subject to full EU checks and controls.
Second, it should solve a number of problems in areas such as food and horticulture, pet travel, VAT and alcohol duties, and medicines.
Third, it will give Northern Ireland more say over any new rules that might otherwise be imposed by the EU, thanks to a Stormont Brake, which will allow the UK Government a veto.
This deal should work for Northern Ireland, which will have a special relationship with the EU on terms that would not be offered to the rest of the UK.
There should be wider benefits too. Fixing the problems in the Protocol would remove one of the biggest sources of Brexit uncertainty.
The unfinished business and continued tensions with the EU have surely deterred some investment in the UK.
This will not be a silver bullet. Investment is also being held back by the looming hikes in corporation tax and by home-grown bureaucracy.
It is still not even possible to say that Brexit is done. For example, the UK has yet to implement full checks on imports from the EU.
But the risks of a trade war over the Protocol have faded. Better relations between the UK and the EU should help cooperation in other areas, such as the Horizon research programme.
This deal will not please everybody. It is unclear how it will work in practice – especially the Stormont Brake.
Opponents of Brexit will seize any opportunity to keep the whole of the UK closely aligned with EU rules.
There will also still be more red tape on trade within the UK. But the new proposals at least deserve a chance.
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