A former Conservative Minister said Northern Ireland can expect inward investment and regular job announcements over the coming months as companies move there due to their unique access to the UK and EU markets.
Julian Smith, who was Minister of the North until February last year, has warned politicians opposed to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol that it is not going anywhere and that they should focus on how to improve it rather than abolish it.
He urged Stormont’s politicians to work with multinationals looking to the north precisely because of their post-Brexit stance, which is expected to reap “huge benefits” in “the fullness of time”.
“The protocol is not going anywhere, so the best course of action is to make sure that it is improved, and to do that we need the European Union and Dublin to help support the UK in working with the European Union,” he said.
“There are big, big opportunities for Northern Ireland to get out of the protocol. The level of inward investment discussions going on at the moment is really high.”
Union leaders called for the removal of the protocol, which is part of the Brexit agreement, because it established de facto trade borders for some goods that traveled between the North and Britain.
Irish Sea Checks
Checks are being carried out in the Irish Sea to ensure that goods coming north meet European Union standards, in order to protect the European Union’s single market and avoid difficult borders on the island of Ireland.
Speaking at an online discussion organized by the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA), Mr. Smith said that a lot of discussions about the protocol make it appear “as if it’s all negative”.
He said, “I see another possible scenario, which is that a major improvement will happen to the protocol in the coming months and that a large internal investment will come to Northern Ireland in the coming months.”
Mr. Smith said, the North is in a “unique position” as a result of the protocol compared to “any other part of the UK to maximize two major markets (Britain and the European Union), and I think the opportunity will be seized and I think there will be major improvements to the protocol.”
“The best thing is for everyone to acknowledge it and work with it and the opportunities it provides, regardless of your political convictions, I think are important.”
While it was difficult to put value on the economic shot in the arm that the North could expect, the region’s inland investment agency, Invest NI, was seeing a “massive increase” in inquiries from foreign companies looking to establish in the region, he said.
North Korea’s former justice minister and independent unionist Claire Sugden told the event online that she hoped to see “very big issues” with the protocol settled in the coming months.
Once that is done, there could be “a significant investment in Northern Ireland and maybe within four years from now (when the Northern Ireland Assembly votes to review the protocol) unionists may want to stay in this arrangement because it actually puts us in a better position,” she suggested.
“Who do you know?” She added.
Sajedin said it was possible to separate the economic benefits of the protocol from the constitutional issues it presented to unions. Ultimately it referred to it as a “commercial issue” but was raising other identity concerns especially among loyal working-class societies.
But this was in the context of people who say a united Ireland is inevitable as a result of the post-Brexit arrangements, amid “a lot of misinformation going on at the moment”.
Contrary to this argument, she said, the prosperity the protocol could achieve would have “if anything represented an opportunity to strengthen the union.”
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