We are nobody's puppets says business leader after DUP claim

Business leaders discussed the Brexit deal with the DUP at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell
Rebecca Black, Press Association

A business leader has insisted that the sector is "nobody's puppets".

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts made the comment after DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused businesses which backed Theresa May's EU withdrawal deal of being "puppets of the Northern Ireland Office".

Mr Roberts was part of a delegation of business leaders which met party leader Arlene Foster and MEP Diane Dodds at Stormont today.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said it had been a "very congenial meeting".

"The fact is we have worked with the DUP over many years, we'll work with them during Brexit and we'll work with them after," he said.

 Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connoll

"It was a good chance for us to air our concerns and hear their concerns as well. All in all, quite a productive meeting."

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Asked whether Mrs Foster had apologised for Mr Wilson's comment, Angela Magowan, of CBI NI, said: "She did say that things get said in the heat of the moment, and not to be taking them too seriously.

"We haven't taken that comment too seriously, so I think we'll all just try to put that to bed and move forward."

Mr Connolly said: "What was expressed was that we are both big enough and ugly enough to work through the rough and tumble of Northern Ireland politics and no hurt was taken on either side."

Mr Roberts added: "I think it is safe to say we are nobody's puppets, it's our members that make the decisions on all these vital issues, we have our own policy perspective."

 Cartoonist Ian Knox's take on the DUP's criticism of business and farming leaders for their support for the Brexit deal

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson has also faced criticism for claiming business figures who have welcomed the agreement may not have read the detail.

Mrs Foster, however, accused the media of trying to "drive a wedge" over Brexit.

 DUP leader Arlene Foster and MEP Diane Dodds speaking at Stormont after meeting with business leaders. Picture by Hugh Russell

"What we talked about was the fact that the media have been trying to put a wedge between the political party and the business community; what we need to do is to have a very good working relationship.

"We might differ on different areas of policy but the one thing for sure is that we both care passionately about Northern Ireland and about the economic future of Northern Ireland, and so we are going to continue to have that dialogue in the future," she said.

Mrs Foster added: "Businesses want certainty, therefore should not waste the next few weeks in advance of the meaningful vote, especially when many parliamentarians have already made up their minds to reject the deal.

"We should use this time to work on getting a better deal which works for the UK and Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann MLA said they recognised the concerns of the business community over the prospect of a no-deal Brexit but for his party "both the withdrawal agreement and a no deal Brexit are unpalatable and unacceptable".

"As someone described it to me, after two years of talking about Brexit, the current withdrawal agreement seemed to provide some light at the end of the tunnel to some, but they just don`t know if it`s a train coming at them. That`s not much of a choice," he said.

“The Ulster Unionist Party is taking a long term view of this reflecting on both constitutional and business concerns. We do not believe that this withdrawal agreement is as good as it gets. And if the price to pay for it continues to be a border up the Irish Sea, we will continue to oppose it and tell the Prime Minister that the UK Government needs to go back to the negotiating table.

"If the Prime Minister’s worry is simply that time is running out, then it would be better to put plans in place for the extension of Article 50 rather than risk the future of the Union for the sake of meeting a deadline."

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