Avoiding trading changes 'crucial to business investment and confidence'
BUSINESS chiefs in Northern Ireland say they recognise the "huge efforts" made by Prime Minister Theresa May and government to reach the Brexit milestone unveiled on Tuesday - and insist any deal is better than no deal.
But with people's livelihoods and the future prospects for many companies in the balance, more time is required to deliberate the real-world implications of the agreement over the coming days.
NI Chamber of Commerce vice-president John Healy said: “After two and a half years of uncertainty, businesses need clarity and precision on the specific terms of trade they will face in the future, many of which are still to be agreed.
"The avoidance of sudden or multiple changes to trading conditions is crucial to business investment and confidence."
He added: “Our priority now is to assess the implications of the current proposals, working closely with members over the coming weeks.”
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) regional chair Tina McKenzie said the withdrawal agreement represented “a significant step back from the cliff edge", which she said would result in “a chaotic no deal Brexit that would be deeply damaging and dangerous for our small firms.”
“We are acutely aware of the political machinations which are ongoing, but without an agreed withdrawal agreement, the UK will crash out next March without a transition period, nor agreement on citizens' rights, nor any plan to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
“While the exact nature of the backstop is being robustly debated, it will only take effect if the future relationship fails to deliver a frictionless border after December 2020. We would encourage all political actors to keep this in mind as we move forward.”
Brian Irwin, chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said that while the agreement was not perfect, and further clarification on certain aspects will be required, it was "vastly preferable to a no-deal scenario and offers us an effective insurance policy in the interim period until a new trading relationship is agreed".
“A UK wide solution that avoids a hard border and allows Northern Irish firms frictionless access to markets in Britain, the Republic of Ireland, and the European Union offers our members the best chance of surviving in a post-Brexit world," he said.
“We now call our local politicians to show decisive leadership and work with the business community to ensure the interests of our economy and society take priority over party politics.”