Tue 9th Oct 2018
October 2018: NI Chamber member businesses have been clear from the beginning that whatever agreement is reached with the EU, it must result in no ‘hard’ border with the Republic of Ireland – or in the Irish Sea.
Ellvena Graham, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
NI Chamber member businesses have been clear from the beginning that whatever agreement is reached with the EU, it must result in no ‘hard’ border with the Republic of Ireland – or in the Irish Sea. Being able to trade as freely as possible with limited bureaucracy, along with the free movement of people, is vitally important for growing the Northern Ireland economy.
Our members are currently seeking clarity around a number of issues – for example in the case of a backstop, what exactly does unfettered access mean in terms of trade between NI & GB?
That is why, with less than six months until Brexit, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined our colleagues from the British Chambers of Commerce and Chambers Ireland, to call on both sides to redouble efforts in the on-going negotiations to ensure an agreement is reached that provides clarity and continuity for trade within and between these islands.
We highlighted the importance of avoiding a messy or disorderly Brexit, which would be hugely disruptive to trading firms and key transport links in all jurisdictions. In fact, recent findings by a joint NI Chamber & British Chamber survey published last week – one of the biggest on business opinion since the referendum – found companies in Northern Ireland would be particularly exposed to the ramifications of ‘no deal.’
According to the survey, an alarming 41% of companies in Northern Ireland say they would have to respond by moving some or all of their business to the EU, 32% would revise investment plans and 29% recruitment plans. Nearly a fifth of businesses in Northern Ireland have already noticed a decrease in the value of EU contracts (18%) and in the number of EU workers (17%) in the last twelve months.
The survey also found that 20% of BCC Chamber members trade with the Republic of Ireland via air or sea, while 17% trade via the Irish land border. NI currently purchases almost £11 billion pounds of goods from Great Britain and sells £10.5 billion there. The figures highlight the importance of maintaining free flows of trade across the island of Ireland, between both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland and Great Britain, and from Ireland to European markets through the UK.
During a recent series of meetings in London, Dublin and yesterday in Brussels, NI Chamber has warned the UK and EU27 governments about the importance of urgently reaching a deal, and ensuring a transition period is agreed to allow both businesses and governments to prepare for change and any new terms of trade. Only 37% of British Chambers of Commerce members in the UK that trade with Ireland are already preparing for possible changes at the border or checks between the island of Ireland and Great Britain, rising to 59% of firms in Northern Ireland.
Politicians on all sides to move quickly to reach an agreement that provides firms with the clarity they need to prepare for change, and to make every possible effort to facilitate the free flow of trade between the two islands for the prosperity of all.
We therefore call on all parties to the negotiations to ensure that common sense solutions are agreed that provide stability to minimize the impact on businesses and their employees. Mature acceptance of harsh realities is long overdue.