We must lift our gaze and ambition to gain economic foot up following Brexit

The Council elections have proved an incentive for parties in Northern Ireland to get around the talks table again
Tina McKenzie

LAST month's Easter break provided some much needed respite from the constant churn of commentary, analysis and speculation on Brexit. And now, as we hold our breath for the next onslaught of discussions, I hope that pragmatism and consensus building is at the heart of negotiations between the two main parties at Westminster.

Of course, both are likely to be feeling bruised from their recent Council elections. The Conservatives lost more than 1,000 council seats and Labour failed to make the gains you might expect from an opposition party at this stage of the election cycle.

Perhaps those results will provide the motivation required to agree a deal, although it may prove a particular challenge for the Prime Minister to sell an agreement that sticks beyond the next general election and who knows how close that may prove to be.

The Council elections here have also proved an incentive for parties to get around the talks table yet again. The electorate certainly seem to be sending a message that they want a more mature and respectful approach to politics in Northern Ireland. Whether a deal can be done to restore power-sharing remains to be seen, but what is undeniable is that the shadow of Brexit still looms large over any possible deal.

Last September I proposed a potential solution to solve the issues arising from Brexit and provide Northern Ireland with a significant competitive advantage when Britain leaves the EU, making this region an ‘enhanced economic zone’.

This suggestion was met with a degree of cynicism by some, with many laughing at my suggestion that this place could become the ‘Singapore of the Western Hemisphere’, trading freely into the UK market and throughout Europe, incentivising the EU27 and GB businesses to use our ports and airports to transfer and process goods.

My view then and now is why shouldn’t we lift our gaze and our ambition to gain an economic foot up following Brexit. The solution would enable tariff-free trade with the EU, regardless of the exact nature of the UK-EU future relationship. As well as presenting a viable way forward in the negotiations it would have a transformative impact on society here, something I don’t think any of our politicians could deny. Such a solution would help us address poverty, high levels of economic inactivity, poor mental health, educational inequality and community divisions.

Political leaders need to have the ambition, foresight and bravery to break through the political deadlock. The business community and many civic leaders have shown courage in speaking up and speaking out over the past number of months. It is now time for our elected representatives to pick up the baton and deliver the kind of leadership that reflects the hopes and dreams of people living here.

Lyra McKee was a symbol of that much wished for, progressive and ambitious new Northern Ireland, who firmly believed “It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.” Let’s honour Lyra and the next generation of young people here by delivering the change, prosperity and stability they so desperately want to see.

  • Tina McKenzie is chief executive of Grafton Recruitment Ireland and chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland

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