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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Stormont deadlock ‘preventing Northern Ireland from reaching economic potential’ – City of London heavyweight

A key figure in one of the world’s most important financial centres believes the continuing political deadlock at Stormont is preventing Northern Ireland from fulfilling its economic potential.

hris Hayward is policy chairman of the City of London Corporation and helps to manage that city’s financial district, which is home to, among other institutions, the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England.

Known as London’s “Square Mile”, the financial district is an important part the UK’s economy. As well as his role with the City of London Corporation, Mr Hayward also lobbies around the world on behalf of the UK’s financial services industry.

As such, he is regarded as an important behind-the-scenes figure in developing global business links.

He was in Northern Ireland last week to meet a range of business representatives to discuss the continuing issues around Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Hayward said there was no doubt the current stalemate over the protocol was holding Northern Ireland’s economy back.

“It is not for us to opine on how to resolve it, these are political matters and I am not here to tell the DUP or Sinn Féin or anyone how they should resolve these matters, but what is undeniable is that Northern Ireland needs political leadership and Stormont needs to be back and the Executive needs to be back,” he said.

“We hope that can be resolved as soon as possible particularly given that April next year is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. We think there is a wonderful opportunity around that to potentially benefit the Northern Ireland economy, with US support as well, which will be important. But we need to get to that point.

“I think there are huge opportunities. What I have seen are great businesses, great enthusiasm among the people of Northern Ireland to really grow the economy.

“I think Northern Ireland has got a bright future, but we need to get over the current hurdles to ensure it can fulfil those aspirations. Until the political deadlock is resolved, we cannot take the maximum benefits of Brexit.”

Mr Hayward said he believed Brexit has been “more of a challenge” for Northern Ireland than the other regions of the UK.

“The political situation at Stormont has made it harder. What the financial markets, and I suspect the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, want is a period of stability.

“Resolving the issues at Stormont is part of continuing market stability. We have been through a very challenging few months, changing governments and that did destabilise the markets.

“We are now in a Sunak/Hunt period where we are hoping over the next couple of years there will be stability in the financial markets which will allow us to work our way through these economic
challenges.” The protocol was set up during the Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the European Union to prevent the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland.

However, unionists have argued that the checks introduced have effectively created a border in the Irish Sea. They believe the protocol is treating Northern Ireland differently to other regions of the UK.

The DUP has refused to support the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont until their concerns around the protocol are addressed, they say.

All the other parties at Stormont want to get the power-sharing administration back up and running.

While Mr Hayward now travels around the world lobbying on behalf of UK businesses in the post-Brexit era, Mr Hayward said he had been against leaving the European Union.

“My opinion, which was the same as the majority of my colleagues, was to be a Remainer. We would have stayed and we would have continued to reform from within.

“However, being a Remainer is different than being a ‘remoaner’. We don’t moan about where we are today, we now seize the opportunities we think Brexit can give us.

“We have seen what some of those are. We have seen the Free Trade Agreement start being negotiated around the world. We have seen the ability to now regulate our own financial services sector as well.

“We are now moving forward to say it is no longer about the debate, the debate was decided by a referendum and we can’t move back on that.

“It has taken a long time to get from that referendum decision to the Brexit bill and the reality of we are now sovereign and on our own once again. There are challenges but there are also opportunities.

“It is fair to say a lot of those opportunities have not yet fed through into people’s experiences.

“So people do ask what difference will Brexit make? When you are in an economically-challenging time as we are at the moment that’s an even harder question to answer because it is harder to see those benefits and I think it will be a slow burner and will take time.”

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