How will Brexit affect businesses in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is “more vulnerable” to the impact of Brexit than any other region in the UK, the new head of the CBI has warned.

And a House of Lords inquiry heard yesterday that around 60% of workers in Northern Ireland’s food factories come from outside the UK.

Speaking in her first major appearance since becoming CBI director, Angela McGowan said Northern Ireland is “more vulnerable” to the impact of the UK vote to leave the EU.

Ms McGowan said the main areas of concern include the impact on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) here, a reduction of incomes due to the drop in the value of the pound, and the free movement of people.

She said food manufacturing, hospitality and Northern Ireland’s universities were likely to be hit hardest.

The CBI chief also said that the “CBI believes that no decision should be taken on the future relationship with the EU” without taking into consideration the impact on Northern Ireland.

Speaking about North-South differences, she said Northern Ireland’s economy relies on smaller businesses and fewer exports.

“It’s a small firm economy, it’s dominated by small firms,” she said.

“Any slowdown in the economy hits us harder than (elsewhere) in the UK.

She warned that Brexit could “blunt” any proposed benefit from a lower rate of corporation tax.

“In Northern Ireland we have a history of punching above our weight, and credit should be given to Invest NI in that regard.

“Investors seek stability, and the macro-economic stability will not be there, so we think that will affect the FDI.”

Ms McGowan was joined by Aidan Gough of North-South trade promoter Intertrade Ireland, along with Michael Bell and Declan Billington from the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA).

Speaking about the impact on businesses located on the border, Mr Gough said: “If you own a shop in somewhere like Newry you would think they are rubbing their hands, but these large swings (in currency) exacerbate the problems in those communities.

“There may be short-term gains for Northern Ireland retailers, but by and large these fluctuations do not help address the structural problems for border communities.”

He said a hard Brexit “will disproportionately hit businesses in the border”.

The committee also heard that around 60% of workers in Northern Ireland food factories are from outside the UK.

And Michael Bell said the agri-food sector had almost doubled its turnover since 2008 and that the “challenge for us is how not to lose momentum”.

Declan Billington said access to the European trade markets remained the biggest concern for members.

Mr Gough said: “The island stands to be impacted greatly, therefore it’s very vital there are discussions happening between the north and the south.”