No-deal Brexit would be a 'disaster' for north's manufacturers

Many firms are considering expanding outside Northern Ireland to maintain a presence in the EU
Michael McHugh, Press Association

A no-deal Brexit would be a complete and utter disaster, manufacturers in Northern Ireland said.

More than a quarter of firms surveyed by the Manufacturing NI representative group said they were considering expanding outside Northern Ireland to ensure a continued presence in the EU.

Many are "terrified" by the ongoing uncertainty as they try to plan for the future.

The lobby group's chief executive Stephen Kelly said he was not predicting factory closures in Northern Ireland and added the separation also presented positive opportunities if it was well-handled.

He warned: "No deal would be a complete and utter disaster."

He said Northern Ireland would be hardest hit amongst the UK countries by any impediment of trade with the Republic, with almost a fifth of cross-border commerce predicted to be lost.

Northern Ireland's economy is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises.

The organisation representing manufacturers told MPs from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that smaller companies traded more on a cross-border basis than larger firms.

Mr Kelly added: "If we crash out there is a responsibility on the UK government then to put in a border."

He said under international rules every single territory had to trade on the same basis, adding World Trade Organisation tariffs varied depending on the product.

Mr Kelly warned manufacturers were trying to make decisions without certainty.

"People are terrified of making the wrong decision and asking us and (government jobs agency) Invest NI and a raft of others.

"This will make or break their business for the next 10 years and none of them can provide that."

Ian Paisley, the DUP's pro-Brexit North Antrim MP, sits on the committee and challenged some of the evidence from manufacturers.

He said: "If there is no deal the one country in Europe that suffers the most is the Republic of Ireland."

He said the Republic would lose 3.8% of its GDP "overnight" if there was no agreement.

Mr Paisley said nobody could force Britain to build a border (imposing separate trade regimes) between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"We have made clear that we want to see trade on that border.

"Are the Irish government to build a border?"

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