More than 4 in 5 CBI Northern Ireland members are ‘very concerned’ about the impact of ‘no deal’ on the region’s economy, CBI President John Allan told the CBI Annual Lunch.
Trevor Lockhart Chair CBINI, Adrian Moynihan, First Trust Bank, John Allan, President CBI, and Angela McGowan Director CBI NI
Speaking at the Titanic Belfast before an invited audience of business leaders, he also highlighted the importance of a post-Brexit immigration system that works for all parts of the UK. Mr Allan said that Northern Ireland’s economy will be damaged if businesses cannot get the people they need to succeed.
At the CBI Northern Ireland Annual Lunch sponsored by First Trust Bank, Mr Allan also stressed the necessity of re-establishing power-sharing at Stormont, enabling local decision-making on critical infrastructure projects such as the North/South Interconnector, A5 upgrade, Belfast Transport Hub and Belfast Power Station.
Speaking on the need for compromise regarding Brexit, John said: “I want to speak directly to the politicians. You’re arguing about Northern Ireland.
“Why not learn from recent history what compromise can achieve?
“We’re twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement that put people, peace and prosperity first – we need that spirit now.
“Specifically, over 90% of CBI Northern Ireland members believe the proposed backstop is a better outcome for the Northern Irish economy than ‘no deal’.
“Does anyone want history to say a reasonable exit from the EU was thwarted by a generation of politicians who would not compromise?
“Let’s not sleepwalk into a ‘no deal’ Brexit.”
On the importance of a post Brexit immigration system that works for all parts of the UK, John Allan, CBI President, added: “Businesses are already achieving amazing things all over Northern Ireland – from world-class agri-food and tourism, to fintech and engineering.
“We must keep those success stories going – but to do that, Northern Ireland needs people.
“96% of our members here say accessing skills and people is a growing problem.
“Northern Ireland doesn’t have an immigration problem – it has an emigration problem.
“With all the uncertainty in the air, people we need are going elsewhere.
“Many back to their home countries in the EU. A third of young people leave Northern Ireland to complete their education. Many don’t come back.
“Year by year, Northern Ireland’s reliance on international workers, whether via the EU or the Common Travel Area, has increased.
“So businesses need action now to address the shortfall, support prosperity and secure vital public services.
“If Northern Ireland companies can’t get the people they need, Northern Irish GDP could fall by nearly 10% over the long term.
“The Migration Advisory Committee report left people scratching their heads a bit.
“Their analysis was right – immigrants contribute far more than they take out.
“But their conclusions were wrong. Reducing access to lower-skilled workers – through a £30,000 salary threshold – simply won’t work for Northern Ireland, or for anywhere else.
“A single, global immigration system is a huge change from where we are today. So businesses right across the UK will need ample time to adjust.
“So let me once again speak directly to the politicians.
- Let’s give firms access to all the skills we need, not just brightest and best.
- Ensure any future system is accessible for firms of all sizes.
- And finally, let’s make that link between immigration and trade deals. Our allies abroad have raised it, and it could create the flexibility we need.
“All along the CBI has called for a single UK system. But the longer politicians ignore Northern Ireland’s needs the greater the pressure for bespoke immigration rules for Northern Ireland.”
Concluding his speech, the CBI President will say leadership and compromise is needed to restore the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland enabling decisions to get made that can improve people’s living standards. “Let me deliver a message from our members to politicians here.
“It is time to do what you were elected to do – govern.
“It’s not just Brexit. It’s about a billion pounds worth of Northern Irish infrastructure projects awaiting a decision.
“It’s failure to reform the health system, failure to deliver a regional Industrial Strategy,
“Northern Ireland deserves better.”
Speaking at the event Adrian Moynihan, Head of First Trust Bank said; “Over the last two years, there has been an increasing global trend towards protectionism, both politically and economically. This contrasts with a growing phenomenon within the business world towards greater partnership and collaboration, where organisations are recognising that more can be achieved by working together rather than on our own.
“As we enter the final stages of Brexit and in the absence of a devolved government in Northern Ireland, it is critical that the business community continues to prioritise partnership and collaboration, working together to ensure our collective voice is heard. Equally, we believe there is a huge opportunity for the business community to come together to develop and create the future vision for Northern Ireland Inc., helping to shape the future business environment for years to come.
“We are delighted to join the CBI and the wider business community once again today to discuss these important issues and more.”