THE secretary of state for Northern Ireland has claimed that Brexit presents a “huge opportunity” for local companies.
Speaking exclusively to the Strabane Chronicle during a recent tour of O’Neill’s, Brandon Lewis suggested that local businesses could see increased growth, through beneficial trade deals with other countries, including the USA.
Mr Lewis visited Strabane as part of a series of engagements during his first visit to the north west since his recent appointment to the new role.
During his visit to O’Neills, Mr Lewis was given a tour of the factory and discussed opportunities and challenges faced by the Strabane-based, cross-border company, especially in the context of Brexit.
And he was also presented with his very own O’Neill’s jersey bearing the inscription, Lewis MP.
“I’m flattered that Kieran and the team thought I was quick enough to wear a number 10,” Mr Lewis smiled. “I never was in my youth. But yeah, really, really quite humbled by it actually.”
Questioned as to the impact Brexit might have for local companies such as O’Neill’s, the MP for Great Yarmouth remarked, “I think actually it (Brexit) is a huge opportunity. One of the key things with Brexit is that we have to forge trade deals as a sovereign nation around the world.
“With a company like O’Neills, which is already exporting to Australia, it can look even further; we were talking earlier about the opportunities in the USA and places like that. If we can get these trade deals done, there is huge opportunity for further growth. Clearly it’s a team here that is ready to grow.”
The new secretary – who replaces Julian Smith, who was fired after just 204 days in the job earlier this month – also emphasised that the Conservative government are “very, very alert to the unique situation,” in the North when it comes to Brexit.
“The United Kingdom is one customs market and we want to retain that for the benefit of GB/Northern Ireland trade, keeping the common travel area, respecting the Good Friday Agreement and making sure as we leave the European Union we do so in a way that is good for all of the UK and our partners and obviously the Republic of Ireland is our closest, most direct partner within the EU. So we want to do this in a way that’s good and works for everybody.”
However Mr Lewis would not be drawn on what Sinn Féin’s unprecedented electoral successes in the Republic might mean in terms of increased calls for a border poll.
He said, “I’m very aware of my responsibilities but I think when it comes to elections it’s always best to let the electorate make their decisions, which they do in both general elections and local elections and they have plenty of opportunities for that.”