An international trade expert has encouraged UK businesses to capitalise on Northern Ireland’s continued EU access post-Brexit.
Gareth Hagan, the deputy chief executive of OCO Global, an international trade and investment firm which advises governments, told a Westminster committee that UK businesses should make the most of Northern Ireland’s unique EU access arrangement.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, negotiated between the UK and EU as part of the Brexit agreement, avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland within the single market for goods, providing businesses with access to to both EU and British customers.
Appearing in front of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today Hagan told MPs that the arrangement provides an opportunity to “put a unique Northern Ireland spin” on market access.
“A lot of economies would have to work hard to get this arrangement, but dual access has landed in Northern Ireland’s lap,” said Hagan in comments to City A.M.. “There’s an opportunity to leverage that.”
“It doesn’t only apply to Northern Ireland businesses it could be valuable for businesses elsewhere in the UK,” he added. “It creates potential opportunity, and we should absolutely be trying to capitalise on that.”
The comments come as the UK debates the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU. The UK government is facing pressure from the DUP, a unionist Irish political party, which has raised opposition to the arrangement because it necessitates custom checks between the UK and Northern Ireland.
Loyalist sentiment is strong in certain areas of Northern Ireland, prompting protests against the de facto UK border to erupt into violence last year.
Hagan encouraged businesses to focus on the positives of the arrangement.
“There’s a lot of emotion,” he said. “For lots of people in Northern Ireland any sense of detachment or being cut loose from the UK is extremely emotional”
“I don’t think it should be interpreted that way. I think you have to see through the fog here and get back to the business fundamentals,” he continued.
Hagan said that as the levelling up agenda and city deals bring new investment to Northern Ireland he hopes that businesses will view the region as a “sandbox for future industries, linked to the UK’s overall economic strategy.”