Northern Ireland agri-food firm losing '70 EU workers a month'

Stock photo: PA Wire/PA Images
Stock photo: PA Wire/PA Images

Margaret Canning

An agri-food company with 1,500 staff is shedding 70 EU workers a month as the uncertainty over its future continues, it has been claimed.

John Allan, the president of the CBI in the UK, spoke to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the organisation's annual Northern Ireland lunch at Titanic Belfast.

He said members here were anxious about what a no-deal Brexit could bring, including their future access to migrant labour.

"We have one member in the agri-food industry which has 1,500 staff in Northern Ireland and they have told me they are losing 70 workers from the EU every month."

Mr Allan said the CBI was in favour of immigration.

"Immigration is an economic benefit and in the UK immigrants put in more than they take out," he said.

"Politicians may not be quite as close to the realities of business life as our members. Business can see with their own eyes that the flow of people in from the EU is diminishing."

He said the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland was not being raised as a concern by business.

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Politicians including the DUP and some members of the Conservative Party have said they fear that a Brexit deal or backstop scenario which gives Northern Ireland a different status than other parts of the UK will threaten the Union.

But Mr Allan said: "In my view, those concerns are a red herring."

He said the CBI was lobbying both the Government and Brussels on concluding a free trade agreement.

Mr Allan, who is also chairman of grocery giant Tesco, said he'd also felt a "wave of anger" from local businesses over a telling-off by MPs on the House of Commons' Brexit committee earlier this week.

He said members told him they'd been angered by comments from Tories Peter Bone and Christopher Chope, who sit on the Exiting the EU Select Committee.

Mr Chope told the businesspeople: "You've known we've been coming out of the EU since June 2016 and now you're just waking up to the fact with five minutes to go that there might not be a deal. You've not done a pretty good job."

The CBI's annual lunch also heard from CBI NI chairman Trevor Lockhart, who is head of agri-food firm Fane Valley.

In a Financial Times interview last week, Mr Lockhart said Fane Valley may have to look at a change in its businesses in the event of a no-deal.

One measure could include shifting its cereals business to the Republic, which would be the only way to get oatmeal and animal feed into the EU at speed.

But a spokesman for Fane Valley said such contingency plans did not mean uprooting any local business.

"There is no suggestion that we would be relocating any facility currently based in Northern Ireland as these assets will be required to serve our UK business," the spokesman added.

The firm owns White's Oats, which are produced in Tandragee, Co Armagh.

Belfast Telegraph

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