A STRABANE business owner has predicted a disastrous future for the North after Brexit.
John Friel, director of Visual Edge located in the business park at Strathmourne Drive, has recently retired as chairman of one of Northern Ireland’s largest organisations the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB). He led the organisation for over a decade.
Speaking to the Chronicle Mr Friel said that the future is not bright for the Irish business sector.
“If Brexit goes ahead it will be an absolute mess for businesses here,” said Mr Friel. “The reality is people won’t even realise how bad it will be it until it has happened.”
Mr Friel explained that at the time of the referendum the FSB chose to take a neutral stance on Brexit.
“I travelled all over Ireland and the UK giving talks and holding workshops on Brexit. The FSB wanted to gather as much information from people through surveys etc to see how each part of the country reacted.
“Most of the people I spoke to weren’t in business at all and they had no idea or interest in Northern Ireland, particularly those based in England and Wales.
“They looked at the issue of Northern Ireland as a nuisance, and basically the further you went away from the border the further people cared about it.
“The Scottish people I spoke with had a bit more consideration for the people here, but their focus on Brexit was more about how they could get another referendum on independence,” Mr Friel explained.
“In terms of the effects of Brexit and what it would mean for businesses, most of them had no idea. From the information I gathered the majority of those who voted to leave the UK voted to stop migration into the country and were unemployed. They never thought of the impact long term.”
When asked how he believed Northern Ireland would cope after Brexit Mr Friel replied, “There is no doubt that it will be the worst situation in my lifetime for businesses here.
“It will have a devastating effect on the manufacturing businesses – big and small, and the farmers will also suffer terribly,” he continued.
“They benefited the most from being in the European Union, as they were financially better off.”
Mr Friel continued, “The only way we can survive is if we can stay in the Customs Union, ideally, the best situation would be if we stay in the EU.”
Mr Friel also added that he believes the people should get the opportunity of a second referendum.
“There is no question that businesses here benefitted greatly when we were in the EU,” he explained.
“A second referendum would be the most democratic thing to do. The people would now at least have a greater understanding and realistic idea of what will happen if the UK leaves the EU. Back then they were just being asked if they wanted in or out?”