Posted on Monday 19 November 2018 by John Mulgrew
We didn’t start talking about Brexit, I can say that. I can’t say we didn’t get on to it very quickly, however.
Angela McGowan is marking her two-year anniversary at the helm of the CBI in Northern Ireland, following her time as chief economist at Danske Bank.
“This is a two-year anniversary. Amazingly, 24 months later and Brexit is still dominating the agenda in terms of what we do. We are busy feeding the NI perspective into our headquarters, because that is where all the action is.
“What we are trying to make people understand the impact on the Northern Ireland economy, because, and it’s well-documented, that the impact will be bigger here than elsewhere.”
The CBI here has also produced a report which warns that a 50% reduction in EU worker migration could cause a 5.3% fall in Northern Ireland’s GDP, by 2041.
“We have to remain focused,” Angela says. The CBI is continuing to push on a range of areas which help drive the economy here, from infrastructure to education and skills.
“At the moment, we are expanding what we are doing on that as it is going to be so crucial to the Northern Ireland economy.
“Innovation is also huge for us. We have set up a policy forum, so we are trying to push that.”
She’s still firm, as other groups are, that a ‘no deal’ is not going to be acceptable for Northern Ireland business, and that allowances have to be made for our unique position here on the island.
I meet Angela McGowan in the Linen Bar at Ten Square Hotel in Belfast city centre for our chat. Strictly speaking, we’re bending the rules here when it comes to the title of this feature.
I could pretend this was an early morning catch-up at a city centre hotel cafe, but our chat actually took place – I hate to say – into the afternoon. Cards on the table, here.
As it was a post-lunch meeting, the order was sparse – yet another coffee for this editor and a sparkling water for my interviewee.
Back to Brexit and what’s around the corner, Angela says: “If you don’t base your policies on evidence, you will pay the price for it at a later date.
“I get the impression that the Prime Minister and the EU officials want a deal, and are close to getting a deal. It could happen, but whatever happens to that deal when she gets it home, that’s where the real questions lie.
“The chances of facing a constitutional crisis looks really high for quarter four this year.”
At the time of writing, while a deal was still in the works, it was looking less rosy and less likely that an agreement could be reached. We also first heard the emergence of the phrase ‘backstop to the backstop’.
“Even if we were to get a deal and have transition, you are pushing it out to 2020, and giving companies some time to adapt,” Angela says. “Even at that, in terms of some of the technological solutions needed to make things work, they are still not there.
“Companies just want to look after their business, and protect the jobs of the people they employ, and there is only one answer to that, and that is frictionless trade with the EU. That solves a lot of questions.
“We have always maintained that you are only going to get prosperity if you have peace. So, once you start introducing borders anywhere in Northern Ireland, that is not good for the peace process.”