HU MEETS CHIEF EU BREXIT NEGOTIATOR MICHEL BARNIER
30 April 2018
Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neill was part of a delegation that met European Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier in Newry on April 30.
Speaking after the meeting, Colin Neill said:
“I emphasised to Michel Barnier the importance of the tourism and hospitality sector to the Northern Ireland economy and that it was of paramount importance to protect the sector in the post-Brexit period, especially given the unique circumstance of sharing a land border with the Republic of Ireland.
“The hospitality and tourism sector is working for Northern Ireland. The latest tourism statistics show that between October 2016 and September 2017 there were 5 million visitors to Northern Ireland, an 11 percent increase on the previous rolling year. In addition there was £951 million spent, an 18 percent increase on the previous period.
“The hospitality sector also supports 60,000 jobs across Northern Ireland. Clearly protecting and supporting Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector is important for all of us.
“Hospitality Ulster has a number of common sense proposals which, we believe, will protect our industry post-Brexit and help us continue to grow.
“The common travel area between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland must be maintained. Given the number of visitors who come across the border, this is vital. In 2015 visitors from the Republic of Ireland spent £61million and the latest figures show a large 27% increase in the number of trips they made to the province.
“Indeed the Republic of Ireland is our second biggest tourist market. Clearly ensuring the free movement of people across the border, post-Brexit, is essential.
“Northern Ireland is also increasingly a destination for international visitors and for that reason the maintenance of free movement of EU visitors must be maintained.
“In a wider perspective Northern Ireland’s hospitality and tourism sector is highly dependent on access to services and goods from both ROI and GB. For this reason we argue that the free movement of goods and services around the UK and between NI and the Republic of Ireland should be maintained.
“We also emphasised to Michel Barnier that access to labour is essential for the NI hospitality sector if it is to continue to grow.
“Any restriction on the ability of our industry to external labour will have a serious impact on Northern Ireland as it will directly hamper our ability to grow and therefore have a negative impact on the NI economy. Currently 20 percent of the workforce of the hospitality sector is made up by migrant workers and by 2024 the sector needs to recruit 2,000 chefs.
“These positions cannot be filled from the NI workforce alone and as yet there is no coherent policy to address the skills shortage here.
“In light of this, it is clear that there must be no changes to the rights of Republic of Ireland citizens to work in Northern Ireland and no changes must be made to the rights of existing EU or overseas workers in the industry and within the supply chain. There must also be mutual recognition of qualification to facilitate access to labour.
“Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector not only faces unique challenges amongst other UK regions in that we share a land-border with the Republic of Ireland. We also are in the position where the Assembly and power-sharing executive have been suspended for more than 15 months.
“In addition we also endure one of the highest tourism VAT rates in Europe and are inflicted with Air Passenger Duty, something our biggest competitor, the Republic of Ireland, has long since scrapped.
“Monday’s meeting with Michel Barnier provided an opportunity to explain face-to-face the challenges that our growing sector faces in Northern Ireland and to ensure that our voice is heard, so that in a post-Brexit period our sector will not face any additional burdens.”