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Blow for Boris Johnson as Northern Ireland business leaders criticise Government Brexit plan

3 min read

Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit plans have been dealt an early blow after they were criticised by Northern Ireland’s business leaders.

The Prime Minister sent fresh proposals to the EU on Wednesday in a bid to replace the backstop arrangement which was rejected by MPs three times under Theresa May.

Mr Johnson said the insurance policy agreed between Brussels and his predecessor to ensure an open border in Ireland after the UK quites the bloc was a "bridge to nowhere" and urged the bloc to show a “willingness to compromise”.

Mr Johnson has instead proposed replacing the arrangement with a system that would take the whole of the UK out of the customs union but force the province to stay tied to single market regulations on agri-foods and industrial goods for four years.

The proposal crucially has the backing of the DUP, which welcomed it as “entirely consistent with the spirit and principles of the Belfast Agreement”.

Mr Johnson is expected to discuss his plan with EU leaders, including Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar later this evening, in a bid to reach an agreement by the EU Council meeting in two weeks' time.

Shortly after releasing the proposals however, a spokesperson for Manufacturing NI said the proposals would be "worse" for Northern Ireland businesses than crashing out of the EU on 31 October without a deal.

"The Boris plan unveiled today means tariffs north to south meaning farms and agri-food will be decimated," they said on Twitter.

"Also means two borders requiring renewal after four years, surveillance in border communities without their consent, checks North/South and West/East, no exemptions, no market access and import VAT. 1% of our manufacturing firms are large businesses. The other 99% are SMEs.

"They have neither the capital or the capacity to handle these new complexities and associated costs.

"For businesses nearer the border, this puts a huge impediment in the way of their trade which will mean that they cannot compete and customers the other side of the Border will cut them their supply chain.

"Frankly the proposal are worse than No Deal for Northern Ireland businesses."

Elsewhere, Aodhán Connolly, Director at the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the latest plan was “unworkable and unpalatable”.

“The Prime Minister’s long awaited proposal is hugely disappointing. It is clear that he has not listened to the needs of the Northern Ireland business community or Northern Ireland households," he said.

"This plan would effectively rip up the UK/EU joint report from December 2017 that promised no hard border and no associated checks and controls.

"Customs and alignment puts in place additional sets of borders, preventing Northern Ireland’s unfettered access to both the EU and Great Britain market which has always been the aim for business.

"This will lead to complexity, delays, tariffs, VAT and cost rises that will make NI goods less competitive and squeeze our household budgets.

"The measures are predicated on intrusive surveillance which will put a burden on business and be disruptive for border communities. In short these proposals are unworkable and unpalatable.”

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