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Northern Ireland economy outpacing post-Brexit Britain

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland’s economy is growing faster than Britain’s, according to new regional analysis.

The Office of National Statistics found that Northern Ireland’s gross domestic product grew 1.4 percent in the July-September quarter of 2021, compared to gains of 0.9 percent and 0.6 percent in Scotland and England, respectively. Economic activity in Wales shrank 0.3 percent over the same quarter.

London’s globally connected economy masked a wider English malaise. While the capital recorded 2.3 percent growth, only two of England’s eight other regions eked out any gains. The northeast, including Newcastle and Sunderland, fared worst with a 1.2 percent slump.

The analysis — based chiefly on the quarterly VAT returns on sales of goods and services at 1.9 million firms — offered no judgment on why the economy of Northern Ireland, normally a laggard, is outpacing other parts of the U.K. this year.

Another recent U.K. economic analysis explicitly credited Northern Ireland’s continued access to barrier-free trade with the 27-nation EU as a key driver.

That picture is reinforced by monthly reports from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office, which has recorded a string of record-high trade figures between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland since the January 2021 launch of post-Brexit trade rules.

Those rules include a U.K.-EU trade protocol that keeps Northern Ireland within the EU single market for goods. While the region’s unionist leaders oppose the protocol because it requires EU customs and sanitary controls on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland, this arrangement also permits Northern Irish firms to avoid this red tape when trading with their Irish neighbors and the wider 27-nation EU.

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