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NW business leaders meet NI Secretary of State

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce has held talks with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley to discuss the unprecedented challenges facing the North West economy.

Brexit uncertainty and a budget for Northern Ireland were top of the agenda during the short briefing in the Chamber’s headquarters at Bishop Street, Derry today.

Chamber President Jennifer McKeever said: “We were delighted to have an opportunity to explain to the Secretary of State the economic difficulties faced by businesses in the North West and spell out the specific challenges presented by Brexit uncertainty.

“While we welcome Prime Minister Theresa May’s reiteration of her commitment that there will be no hard border, her Government’s aspiration to leave the Single Market and the Customs Unions is incompatible with an open border and that is causing concern.

“Clarity is of paramount importance because Brexit uncertainty is resulting in business stagnation in our city and region. The failure of our politicians to reach agreement and provide us with a voice from Stormont in the negotiations has compounded the effects of that uncertainty.

“The governments of Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland have invested heavily in business development agencies to ease Brexit transition but political deadlock means no such spending has been designated here. Northern Ireland,and in particular the border region, faces the most difficult economic challenges in Brexit, yet no additional resources have been invested in safeguarding business growth. That situation must be addressed.” 

The briefing also included calls for clarity on setting a budget at Westminster for Northern Ireland in the absence of devolved government.

Sinead McLaughlin, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce CEO, added: “We impressed upon Ms Bradley that the City Deal for Derry must be a part of the budget set for Northern Ireland.

“Robust plans for a City Deal to drive the local economy have been prepared by Derry City and Strabane District Council. City Deal status will provide leaders in this city and region with the power to place local needs centre stage in decision-making to protect and grow the local economy.

“Provision for a City Deal - along with commitments to investment in infrastructure and connectivity projects which are vital to our economy - must be given priority in any budget for Northern Ireland, especially under the looming shadow of Brexit.”