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Invest NI’s Hamilton announces decision to leave amidst Brexit uncertainty

Invest NI has confirmed that its chief executive Alastair Hamilton is to leave his role later this year.

In a statement, the business development agency said that the former DUP special advisor had notified the board but will remain in post for a period of time to enable the recruitment of a new chief executive.

The decision comes just over a month before the UK is set to crash out of the EU unless a deal can be struck or an extension to Article 50 can be achieved. In January, Invest NI’s board took the unprecedented step of writing to Northern Ireland’s political parties to express concerns around the preparedness of businesses in the event of a no deal scenario.

Confirming a letter had been penned to the political parties in Northern Ireland, in a statement, Mark Ennis, chairman of Invest NI, said: “The board of Invest NI is deeply concerned that we are now less than 60 days from exiting the EU and it is clear that many of our businesses, particularly our small and medium sized companies, have not yet even begun to address the key issues which they could potentially face, particularly if the UK faces a no deal scenario. This is despite Invest NI having put in place a number of initiatives to support companies through this period.”

The public statement by the chairman was an unusual step considering that chief executive Alastair Hamilton is regarded as the public face of the organisation. In the wake of the Brexit referendum in 2016, Hamilton stated that he was “excited” by the prospect of Brexit, suggesting that changes to the UK’s EU status “now releases us from some of the challenges we faced in the past around what is known as state aid”.

He explained that he was excited by the opportunity to develop unique services in Northern Ireland that differentiate from others trading in the international market. He also suggested that the “vast majority” of investors in Northern Ireland had not come because of single market access, adding: “Market access is not an issue for inward investment coming to Northern Ireland today.”

However, prior to Hamilton’s recent announcement, Invest NI said the board, chief executive and executive team were “completely aligned.”

Invest NI said that the comments made by Hamilton were “specifically in relation to” the opportunities that a managed Brexit could have presented for Northern Ireland as an inward investment location of choice for international investors.

It added that Hamilton’s comments on Brexit, in relation to the inward investment proposition, and the board’s comments on the preparedness of local businesses in the event of a no deal Brexit, were separate issues, adding it was “wrong” to join the two.

“As we continue to move towards the proposed date for the United Kingdom leaving the EU, and in the absence of any clarity as to the circumstances our businesses may face, Invest NI and its board, have come increasingly concerned that many of our businesses have not adequately considered the potential challenges they may face, particularly if there is a no deal Brexit,” a spokesperson said.

“The board, chief executive and executive team of Invest NI are all completely aligned and focused on providing the best possible support to businesses to help them manage their way through the UK’s leaving of the EU.”

Hamilton’s statement on his decision to leave the post makes no reference to Brexit and suggests that it was his intention to depart after 10 years.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Invest NI, and count it a great privilege to have been able to serve the organisation, and my home country, in such a significant role. There is never a good time to leave such a position, but it has been my intention to step down after ten years in the post, which would be during 2019. I intend to explore new opportunities and further expand my other areas of interest.”

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