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Northern Ireland’s business community want compensation for their Brexit troubles

To say that Brexit has been ‘divisive’ is both an understatement and also a cliché of the highest order. But Johnson’s election victory, as we are all now well versed, will not bring an immediate end to the arguing. Today we hear that business leaders and entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland want their money back – or at least, they want to be compensated for whatever financial difficulty, burden or losses they face as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.

The figure being mooted is £100m, by business owners who met with political leaders on Friday last week claiming the trade border which the PM agreed to place in the Irish Sea with his new Withdrawal Agreement will cost companies and consumers both. They said: “People here did not vote for this future, we should not be expected to pay the price for it in jobs and lost opportunities”. By they, I mean Colum Eastwood, who has just been elected as MP for Foyle, and is leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party.

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The complainants are not just having a whine – they mean to take action. Businesspeople representing 12 different market sectors in Northern Ireland have secured the backing of Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionist party, and also two recently-minted Northern Irish parties to table amendments to the UK’s Brexit legislation. These include a legal guarantee that trade across the Irish Sea is completely unhindered.

The showstopper though is the compensation. The groups involved are the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, the Ulster Farmers Union, the Confederation of British Industry, Manufacturing Northern Ireland, the Dairy Council and the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association. They collectively agree that each of their sectors could be affected to the tune of tens of millions each, and while they did not specifically enumerate the £100m figure, it is implied by the maths they have done for each industry.

As with so much in the Brexit question, it remains to be seen exactly what levels of disruption businesses will face. That is partly because it is a moving feast – right now there is no free trade agreement sorted with the EU, but if there is one, it will cover a lot of product and service types that then no longer have to contend with disruption. If there is no agreement, there will be more disruption, and so on.

The Brexit process now looks certain to proceed, which as I wrote yesterday, is an improvement of the complete chaos and uncertainty about what on earth would happen next which we have endured for the last couple of years. Here’s hoping that FTA comes down the line in short order, that businesses may breathe a growing sigh of relief.

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