Brexit: 'Clear opportunities and frictions' in NI Protocol, says Invest NI

Lorry at a port in Northern IrelandImage source, Getty Images

The opportunities offered and frictions caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol are clear, the chief executive of Invest NI has said.

Kevin Holland said there was now more clarity for businesses and investors after a long period of uncertainty when the Brexit deal was being negotiated.

The protocol is the part of the deal that keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the EU single market for goods.

Mr Holland said Invest NI was helping firms explain how the protocol worked.

He made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Business programme as the economic development agency published its end-of-year results.

'Focus on practicalities'

He said there had been "frictions" resulting from the post-Brexit trade arrangement for Northern Ireland.

"There have been frictions because we've seen them," he said.

Image source, Invest NI
Image caption,
Kevin Holland says potential investors want to know the practicalities of setting up in Northern Ireland

"We have invested a lot of time in webinars and advice sessions with businesses in Northern Ireland to explain to them how the new configuration works between the UK and Europe, what is the best way to manage the frictions.

"We've had companies who have talked to us and want to explore the opportunities."

This week the UK government demanded a redrawing of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which it had agreed with the EU last winter.

It said the resulting checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain had proven to be unsustainable and were damaging the "fabric" of the UK.

But the EU responded by saying it would not agree to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Asked if potential foreign investors had queried the political split between the UK and the EU in relation to the protocol, Mr Holland said: "When we talk to businesses we focus on the practicalities.

"In terms of political discussions that go on on a daily basis, that is not the part we focus on.

"There has been real progress over the last few years.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Some unionists have protested against the Northern Ireland Protocol, claiming it weakens the UK union

"If you look at where we were last June, there was very little clarity and businesses were saying 'we want certainty, we want to understand what is happening'.

"[Since the Brexit deal], I think it's pretty clear actually what businesses need to do to operate successfully in Northern Ireland.

"[It's clear] what frictions... are still there and what the opportunities there can be for the future for the benefit of businesses setting up in or expanding from Northern Ireland."

'Northern Ireland is attractive'

Invest NI's end-of-year results show it made 3,000 offers of financial assistance during the 2020-21 financial year.

Mr Holland said the organisation had adapted quickly to also assist with the rollout of government support schemes during the pandemic.

He said he was confident about attracting new investors.

"We are having a lot of conversations... our pipeline is very strong, as strong as it has been over the last four years," he said.

"The challenge is actually bringing people here because of Covid and travel restrictions.

Image caption,
Invest NI is the publicly-funded economic development agency for Northern Ireland

"Northern Ireland is a very attractive destination and I think over the last year it has made a name for itself with global companies.

"They've seen the resilience of Northern Irish businesses and the speed at which they adapted quickly.

"Just to move a deal across the line, to get the final signature on a dotted line, we really need some of those investors to come here and we look forward to the opening-up to be able to do that."

Mr Holland was also asked if Invest NI provided value for money.

"In spite of the traumatic year we've lived through we have hit the targets we set four years ago before anyone had heard about Covid or even Brexit," he replied.

"We certainly deliver what we commit to.

"If you look at our investment returns, for every £1 we invest into businesses they match with £5.

"So for every £1 we disperse, you get £6 into the economy."

You can listen to Inside Business on BBC Radio Ulster on Friday at 17:30 BST or on the BBC Sounds app.