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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Bombardier Northern Ireland chief gives May's Brexit hopes a lift

Michael Ryan, the head of Bombardier’s Belfast plane plant, said the so-called backstop laid out in the deal is a workable arrangement and infinitely preferable to a no-deal split

Bombardier plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The unit's chief is backing Theresa May's EU divorce plan. Reuters
Bombardier plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The unit's chief is backing Theresa May's EU divorce plan. Reuters

The chief of Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturer backed British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan, providing a boost for the embattled premier from a part of the UK where opposition to the deal with the European Union could derail the accord.

Michael Ryan, the head of Bombardier’s Belfast plane plant, said the so-called backstop laid out in the deal is a workable arrangement that he could live with if necessary, and infinitely preferable to a no-deal split.

“It would not be difficult at a Northern Ireland business level,” the executive said in London. “That’s not to understate the sovereignty concerns. But speaking as a businessman and someone who wants to continue to run a business here, it’s the least burdensome option.”

Earlier this year, The National reported that Britain had for the first time thrown financial support behind exports of Bombardier CSeries jets part-built by Northern Ireland workers.

Export credit agency UK Export Finance said the financing for jets being delivered to Korean Air would support jobs in Belfast, where the Canadian plane maker operates a state-of-the-art wings plant.

The move came weeks after Bombardier won a shock reprieve from severe US import duties on the 110 to 130-seat CSeries when a US tribunal ruled Boeing had failed to prove it had been harmed by low prices of CSeries planes sold to Delta Air Lines.

This week, Mr Ryan lent his backing to Mrs mays Brexit deal, a day after she visited Belfast to drum up support. Her Democratic Unionist Party allies say it imperils Northern Ireland’s place in the UK by potentially tying the region to EU rules indefinitely, with checks that wouldn’t apply elsewhere in the country, according to Reuters.

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Mr Ryan said those measures, which already apply in areas such as livestock transfers, would have no great impact.

“Given that there are already agricultural checks which happen invisibly and hardly anyone knew about, moving aircraft parts around should be relatively straightforward,” he said. “It would mean more admin and documentation, but it would be much less disruptive to our business than the alternative.”

The Bombardier plant imports 25 per cent of its components from the rest of the UK and 40 per cent from the EU. The site employs almost 4,000 people and accounts for about 10 per cent of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing exports.

To help avoid the return of checkpoints on the Irish border, Mrs May’s deal suggests the entire UK will remain in a customs union with the EU until a better solution is found.

But Northern Ireland will also keep many of the EU’s rules - and that means added checks on goods arriving from Britain. Both the UK and EU say they want to avoid the backstop ever being triggered. So far that hasn’t been enough to reassure the DUP, which has said companies don’t fully grasp the implications of the deal.

“Our one red line” is that Northern Ireland shouldn’t be treated differently from the rest of the UK, DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Thursday, adding the party is speaking to others about finding a “better” deal.