Northern Ireland’s positive economic growth may be due to wider public sector and not protocol, says UK minister James Cleverly


UK Europe Minister James Cleverly suggested the size of the public sector in Northern Ireland could contribute to better economic performance figures, unlike the Protocol.

The comments come after recent experimental data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed Northern Ireland’s relative recovery from the pandemic was second only to London.

Addressing the House of Lords European Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mr Cleverly said it was “not yet clear” why the economy here was doing well, but stressed that the size public sector workforce here could point to one of the reasons.

“Some of the things we know to be true are that the public sector in Northern Ireland is proportionately larger than in many other parts of the UK,” the minister said.

“It is perhaps more resilient to the economic shocks that we see around the world and across the UK.

“I can’t in good conscience look you in the eye and say that’s definitely the reason, but I think it could be a contributing factor.”

It comes after Belfast Harbor saw revenue rise 17% in 2021 to £73.3m from the previous year, while operating profits rose 13% to £34million.

The port claimed the positive numbers had been boosted by “grace periods associated with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

Trade in the port reached record levels during the year, with 25.6 million tonnes of goods passing through the port, a 9% increase from 23.5 million tonnes a year earlier and 5% above previous record highs recorded in 2019.

Meanwhile, two food and beverage companies have announced deals here that appear to benefit from the protocol.

Sandwich company Around Noon in Newry has announced a major supply deal with Marks & Spencer for its stores around the island of Ireland.

Their chief executive, Gareth Chambers, said NI’s current trade agreement facilitates these transactions.

The Northern Irish owner of Smoothie Factory, an American smoothie and juice bar franchise, said Belfast was the gateway for the brand’s expansion into the UK and Ireland. He launched his brand’s first branch at Arc Retail in the city’s Titanic district.


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