Aspects of the British government’s deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont have been welcomed by the north’s business community, as groups say they will study the details further in the coming days.
The Safeguarding the Union command paper was published on Wednesday by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, outlining the steps agreed between London and the DUP to end the party’s two-year long Stormont boycott.
The deal was reached following discussions to address the DUP’s concerns over the UK-EU Windsor Framework deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The backbone of the deal is a reduction in checks on goods moving between the north and Britain, with legislation to be introduced to ensure goods originating in the north can be sold across the Irish Sea in all circumstances.
A new UK East-West Council will be established to strengthen co-operation between the north and Britain, including for businesses, while a new body, Intertrade UK, will help firms “expand activities” across the UK as a whole.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said both new bodies would provide “develop further opportunities to increase trade and improve connectivity”.
He said Retail NI would “take time to study in detail both the Command Paper and the accompanying legislation and consult with our retail and wholesale membership” on any changes to the Windsor Framework.
“The £150m Investment Zone is another positive development to boost our economy and we look forward to working with the UK Government on its implementation. This zone should focus on areas of high under investment west of the Bann,” he said of one of the command paper’s commitments.
“Overall, Northern Ireland has moved forward this week and having the Executive and Assembly restored will create political stability which is the bottom line for any successful economy.”
Meanwhile, a body representing all of the north’s main industries said mitigations against the “long-term challenges of regulatory divergence” under the Windsor Framework are “particularly welcome”.
The Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, which is a collaboration of 14 industry bodies including Manufacturing NI, the Ulster Farmers Union, Hospitality Ulster among others, said in a joint statement: “It continues to be our shared aspiration that the arrangements, as they continue to evolve, will deliver a unique platform that unlocks economic growth and investment. We will take time to study the detail, consider its practical implications and what it means for our members day-to-day.”
The statement added: “We encourage the UK and EU to adopt a laser-like focus on business engagement with a constructive, solutions-focussed approach to help firms adjust to any new arrangements.”