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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland companies anxious over Brexit, says City of London Mayor

Important stage: Charles Bowman
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The Lord Mayor of the City of London has said he has gathered a sense of "anxiety" over Brexit during meetings with firms in the province.

Charles Bowman, a senior partner at PwC and Lord Mayor in a year-long appointment, was visiting Belfast and Londonderry as part of his remit to promote the financial services sector around the UK.

The sector employs around 2.3 million people and accounts for 12% of UK GDP, as well as generating £72.1bn in tax - over 50% of the NHS budget.

During his visit, he attended a round-table discussion hosted by IT giant Allstate, as well as a gathering of around 25 firms in the cyber-security sector hosted by accountancy firm Deloitte.

He also met Belfast City Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie and Deputy Mayor Emmet McDonough-Brown to discuss a city deal.

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He said the City of London fully backed bids by both Londonderry and Belfast to secure city deals, which he stressed could boost the momentum of the financial services sector.

Both cities are hoping for more detail of city deals to boost their decision-making and funding powers in the Chancellor's Budget in the autumn.

Mr Bowman said the UK financial services sector was a European and global "jewel", as well as a national jewel - and that part of his remit was to prepare the sector for Brexit.

However, he said the provisions of the Chequers deal had not fully met its requirements.

He said the financial services sector in Northern Ireland had grown because of "momentum, collaboration and optimism".

After meeting with companies here, he said: "There is anxiety with regards to Brexit and the desire for a sense of confidence and certainty which is clearly absent at this moment of time.

"We are dealing with quite an important stage over the next two or three months, so that sense of anxiety is present, and I can feel that.

"There is obviously the important issue with regard to the border and safeguarding that relationship on this wonderful island.

"Obviously we are not complacent about it, but we are looking at life beyond Brexit and the opportunities."

The City's Brexit hopes had been built around "transition, talent and trade", Mr Bowman said.

"Financial and professional services would be part of a brave but quite practical and pragmatic free trade agreement built out of mutual market access drawn from regulatory alignment.

"The model that we had asked for has come through in Chequers in a more diluted form.

"It isn't where we had hoped it would be... but we will be working with government to work out how we can develop that into the type of deal that gives financial services the footing that it needs."

Belfast Telegraph

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Important stage: Charles Bowman