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Northern Ireland

Brexit Update from Allie Renison, Head of Europe Trade & Policy at the IoD

13 Nov 2018

It's been said that a week is a long time in politics.

Fast forward to the current political landscape, and Brexit is quickly turning that ratio on its head. Every day and every hour brings more twists and turns that keep businesses struggling to keep up - or indeed just focused on getting on with the job just as we expect the politicians to do as well.

While that is an understandable approach to take, there are however drawbacks to taking one's eye off the #Brexit ball. We are now reaching a crunch stage in negotiations, and while the definitive solution to the Irish border is unlikely to emerge from this withdrawal agreement, it is a time where decisions will have to be made. Businesses cannot afford to look away, because consequences may well be coming.

An unlikely coalition seems to be growing in the House of Commons of MPs who say they will vote against the withdrawal deal thay comes back. Formed of politicians who championed both Leave and Remain, they identify both the Irish border "backstop" policy and the Government's proposed future relationship with the EU as reasons for rejecting any agreement.

While the latter of these perhaps misunderstands the nature of this deal -which is first and foremost a legal exit treaty- the reality is that this coalition is growing. Politicking is happening on all sides - from MPs who would be happy to see an exit without an agreement to those who see voting it down as a means to a second referendum. While no one can be sure what the exact outcome of a withdrawal agreement failing to get through Parliament would be, it is perfectly rational to assume that it significantly increases the risk of no-deal.

As such, planning for this outcome must take centre stage - even with the many "unknown unknowns" that come with a no-deal Brexit. The current draft withdrawal agreement text is publicly available, and gives an idea of the number of areas that businesses need to be considering as part of their preparation. The EU and UK have also published a number of no-deal technical notices -some naturally more helpful than others- and IoD members have at their disposal an extensive planning guide which covers issues for both goods and services, as well as movement of people. And firms in Northern Ireland with complex and specific queries can also benefit from professional advice using the Intertrade Ireland voucher scheme, in addition to sending me your queries as well!

But even with this potential scenario on our doorstep, it remains vital for business not to shy away from the debate. Explaining what the impact of no-deal would be is our responsibility as business organisations, and doing everything possible to avoid it remains our priority, just as it should be for the politicians. Taking this position may bring us uncomfortably close to the fray of party politics, but where an event like this that could detrimentally impact on firms' day-to-day operations, it is clear we have to make a stand on this if nothing else. With every passing day and discussion with officials responsible for contingency planning, the worry factor grows exponentially.

This is of course not to say that every company is unprepared or will be significantly hit by a no-deal outcome. For a number of companies, a lack of international exposure means they may be insulated from the worst of any impact. But for businesses in Northern Ireland, the exposure tends to be greater than the rest of the UK on average. From agrifood to the Single Electricity Market, integration with Ireland means the degree of challenge and complication is naturally higher. While we focus one hand on preparing as far as possible for all outcomes, it is vital that with the other we make the case for why prosperity in Northern Ireland means we need a deal that gets us safely over the Brexit day line.

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Northern Ireland

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IoD Northern Ireland
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185 Stranmillis Road
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BT9 5EE