Northern Ireland

Brexit: Politicians need 'firmer grip' of no-deal preparations

Carolyn Fairbairn
Image caption Carolyn Fairbairn said "thousands of decisions need to be taken between now and a no-deal Brexit"

Politicians need to take "a firmer grip" of no-deal Brexit preparations in NI, the head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said.

Carolyn Fairbairn said the preference is to have Stormont ministers in control - otherwise, direct rule from Westminster may be required.

She said business "will not tend to take a view on exactly how this is delivered".

There has been no devolved government in Northern Ireland since January 2017.

Northern Ireland's civil service has been making preparations for Brexit without local ministerial direction.

"There are thousands of decisions that are going to need to be taken between now and a no-deal Brexit," Ms Fairbairn said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Fairburn said politicians need to do more to prepare for a no-deal Brexit

"Without a decision maker in place, that is going to be particularly damaging for Northern Ireland."

She said that among her members in Northern Ireland, many larger businesses feel they have done all they can to prepare but "there's a limit to what you can do".

There is a greater concern about preparedness among small businesses, which, she said, may not have the "bandwidth" to prepare for "an incredibly complicated and uncertain thing".

She also welcomed the prime minister's meetings with the leaders of France and Germany.

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Image caption The CBI was among business groups in Northern Ireland that supported the Brexit backstop

"Those discussions have moved out of megaphone diplomacy into real conversations."

The CBI was among business groups in Northern Ireland that supported the Brexit backstop.

'Sensible measure'

"Our members never had a problem with the backstop," Ms Fairbairn said.

"It was always something that felt like a sensible measure economically, the objection has always been political."

Image copyright Stephen Barnes/Getty
Image caption Carolyn Fairbairn said the preference is to have Stormont ministers in control

The prime minister insists the backstop must be ditched if a no-deal exit from the EU on 31 October is to be avoided.

He argues that it could leave the UK tied to the EU indefinitely, contrary to the result of the 2016 referendum, in which 52% of voters opted to leave.

But the EU has repeatedly said the withdrawal deal negotiated by former PM Theresa May, which includes the backstop, cannot be renegotiated.

However, it has previously said it would be willing to "improve" the political declaration - the document that sets out the UK's future relationship with the EU.

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