The Alliance Party should lead the economic debate by ending its Brexit Reversal Policy…

The UK governments’ formal accession to the CPTPP trade area this weekend should be the catalyst for the Alliance Party to review its Brexit reversal policy.

On Sunday, the Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenock signed a treaty which gives the UK access to the £12 trillion Indo Pacific trade bloc and a chance for the UK to expand beyond the confines of the European Union. Admittedly this is one of the very few trade-deal successes that we have witnessed over the last seven years since Brexit.

The CPTPP, also known by the catchy name of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership comprises Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Vietnam and many other Pacific Rim countries. According to a new government report one in every 100 workers are employed in a company headquartered in a CPTPP member state and £35 billion of CPTPP investment is in the South East of England alone.

This trading arrangement also presents a positive opportunity for Northern Irish businesses, particularly in manufacturing, machinery and transport equipment. We have some truly awesome companies in Northern Ireland to take advantage of these trading links, including Wrightbus in Ballymena and ALMAC and other manufacturers in the Craigavon area.

Even though the Asia Pacific region is arguably the fastest growing area in the world, some have expressed concerns that the CPTPP could eventually weaken produce standards in the UK as companies look to maintain and expand their market share. One example of this is the deviation in food production standards between the EU, UK and CPTPP bloc and the use of pesticides. Whilst there is no immediate requirement for the UK to amend their standards, over time CPTPP encourage alignment.

Despite these longer-term risks, membership of the CPTPP should be welcomed in Northern Ireland as it presents more trading opportunities for our businesses. This is also a reason why I believe the Alliance Party should revise its Brexit policy and demonstrate, once again, that it is the grown-up party of business and the centre ground.

In its 2022 Assembly Election manifesto the party stated that it wishes to “re-join the EU at the earliest opportunity”, however, to realise its other manifesto commitment to “make Northern Ireland the most innovative and dynamic regional economy in Europe” I believe a change in policy is required.

During the EU / UK negotiations Alliance correctly claimed that the EU backstop, the NI Protocol and the Windsor Framework were all the negative out-workings of Brexit, but this debate is now over. I believe the party would be in a much stronger position if it was to solely champion the new opportunities presented by dual market access to both the EU and UK markets by ending its priority to reverse Brexit.

As they say, you can’t ride two horses at the same time or can’t have your cake and eat it.

Reversing this policy would send a clear message to business and potential investors that Northern Ireland is open for business and can be a successful and growth led economy through the current Windsor Framework agreement. I also believe the Alliance Party is strong enough to withstand a little open debate given the importance of these economic and trading opportunities.

Others may take a different view and argue that it is consistent to reject the overriding principle of Brexit while at the same time try and make the best of a bad deal through the Windsor Framework. But I would argue that Alliance can still retain its pro-European stance and be a champion for new trading opportunities.

While some of Stormont’s politicians may wish to see equality across the United Kingdom – presumably to free the English, Welsh and Scots from the dastardly consequences of Brexit – I am afraid I do not.

Instead, I am selfishly partisan when it comes to Northern Ireland and strongly support access to the EU market and preferential access to the UK market. Entry into the CPTPP trading bloc will also help bolster our trading arrangements through the UK market but it will not diminish our access to the EU market.

In 2016 I voted to remain in the EU but have long since accepted the current Brexit reality. Now the Alliance Party should grasp the opportunity to lead the economic debate in Northern Ireland by updating their policy to reverse Brexit.

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