A Derry businessman has warned Brexit will mean ‘economic suicide’ for a northern state that, he believes, has
failed before its 100th birthday, while suggesting anyone who can’t see Irish unity makes sense, doesn’t want to.
John McGowan, of the North West Academy (NWA), gave the blunt assessment during the final debate of this year’s Gasyard Féile, which focused on, ‘Ireland - An Agreed Future’.
Mr. McGowan said that with northern businesses facing into burdensome customs tariffs and red-tape post-Brexit, a ‘United Ireland’ now, more than ever, made “good business sense”.
“If you look at any economic stats or figures on this, the first thing that strikes you is, how the state that is the North, or Northern Ireland, has failed,” said Mr. McGowan, going on to underline his point in both the long and short terms.
“I hear economic people saying we’d be better off as part of the UK.
“Well, you know what, if you look at the economy in Ireland in 1920 and you look at it now, 80 per cent of everything that was made [in 1920] came from Antrim, Down and a part of Derry. We’ve lost shipbuilding, we’ve lost linen, we’ve lost shirt-making, and we’re not scoring any marks in those top ten sectors that all have their HQs in Dublin,” he said.
The 48-year-old, who runs the NWA language school and has been involved in trade development during the course of a twenty-year career in business, suggested the North has failed as a state, not just over the course of the past century, but over the past decade as well. Mr. McGowan said this failure was only likely to be worsened by Brexit.
Addressing an audience gathered in the Pilots’ Row centre for the discussion on Monday he noted how InvestNI spent £1.5billion over the past ten years trying to make Belfast a financial services centre, but that “Dublin’s getting it just because of Brexit”.
Mr. McGowan said those - including himself - who had advocated all-Ireland corporation tax harmonisation in order to better attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) now needed to “forget about it”.
No multinational firm will choose the North over the South if the UK leaves the European Union, he said.
“We are, post-Brexit, looking at economic suicide,” he said.
The classic pitch made when attempting to attract foreign investors to our peripheral corner of the North Atlantic has been fatally undermined by Brexit, argued Mr. McGowan.
“If you’re sitting in Belfast looking to target FDI into the North, previously, you were talking about harmonising corporation tax, you were talking about access to the European market, and you were talking about freedom of movement of people,” he said.
All of that’s out the window if Brexit proceeds from 2019.
Moreover, Mr. McGowan predicts a cross-border exodus of local businesses.
“The amount of people I know who are already saying, ‘I’ll flip over the border if there’s any paperwork. I’m not going through it’. People keep talking about borders and tariffs. It’s not a physical border. It’s the fact that you have to pay something and the paperwork and the time involved in that and business will not do that, they will flip over the border.”
He said all of this demands a dire prognosis for an economy that hasn’t grown in ten years.
“The economic reality is that between now and 2021 we will be a lot poorer than we are now.”