Posted on Friday 31 January 2020 by Ulster Business

JM

Are we in, or out? By the time you’re reading this, the UK is likely to be – from a technical perspective at least – about to leave the EU, and go it alone.

In the four weeks or so since the last edition of the magazine, we’ve had a strong Tory majority pushing Brexit over the line and the restoration of devolution after three years without elected officials on the Hill.

As we enter a new year and decade, there’s a sense, or a hope, of a return to some form of normalised business environment. Brexit isn’t what business wanted, speaking generally, but it appears it’s what we’ve got. The minutiae of trading arrangements are still not worked out.

Some sectors are more content than others, but we shouldn’t forget that Northern Ireland had a previous withdrawal deal on the table – largely backed by business – little over a year ago which could have set us apart as a unique trading environment, maintaining strong links with the Republic and the wider EU marketplace. But some of those in the political sphere seemingly put their own self interest and ideology above the future of the economy, and those who live in it.

Tonight, some will take to the streets in and around the heart of the UK Government to show to the world their joy – perhaps misplaced – over the exit from the EU. For some, purely from a nationalistic perspective, it's a chance to satisfy all the cliches that have plagued us over the last three years or so and for others, a chance to revel in an perceived 'brave new world' – forged and fuelled by thoughts of a rose-tinted Britain gone by, Crystal Palace, heaving smoke stacks, heavy industry and fish and chips served up in newspaper on a pebble beach.

For Northern Ireland business, and many people here, much of that platonic ideal is difficult to comprehend – especially among a younger generation. You just have to look at the breakdown in demographic of voters in the last General Election to see that.

For some, tonight will be a time to mourn. Leaving the largest trading bloc in the world and, for better or worse, going it alone.

Regardless, tomorrow and after the transition period in less than a year's time, the hard work begins in trying to re-establish trading relationships with our EU partners which would see as little friction or duty as possible. We'll know in the coming months whether the new market opportunities we have been promised will materialise, how long the processes will take, and what the immediate impact of exiting the EU will be for business across the UK and Ireland.

We can now welcome the fact that we now have a working government at Stormont. Our MLAs are now back in their seats, committees up-and-running, and ministers staring at burgeoning in-trays.

There seems to be some form of contentment and agreement among our parties on a range of important issues, including mental health. We are, however, already seeing the odd divergence, including whether we should continue the move to devolve and reduce corporation tax here – Finance Minister Conor Murphy pushing it into the long grass, while Economy Minister Diane Dodds has suggested that it remains on the policy books as an option.

It’s just one of the myriad of areas of the economy and business which need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months – including a close look at the draft rates revaluation, which has certainly got the dander up among some of our best-known hospitality businesses.

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