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UK to remain key market as Brexit chatter fades

Problems remain but Irish exporters are working their way through them says Enterprise Ireland's UK head

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Deirdre McPartlin, UK country manager of Enterprise Ireland

Deirdre McPartlin, UK country manager of Enterprise Ireland

Deirdre McPartlin, UK country manager of Enterprise Ireland

Irish companies should look for opportunities rather than problems in what remains the most important export market for many, according to the UK country manager of Enterprise Ireland.

There had been fears that heightened political tensions over Brexit would have the potential to damage business relationships but this does not appear to be the case, Deirdre McPartlin, who is based in London, told the Sunday Independent.

The conversation in Britain has moved on quickly from Brexit, she said.

"The embassy has been asking us this question and we keep asking our clients about this and their consistent answer is 'No, politics isn't having an impact - the conversations with our customers are around solving their problems'," said McPartlin.

New figures from Enterprise Ireland appear to back up this assertion. A survey of 427 Enterprise Ireland companies exporting to the UK has found that 89pc see future opportunities in that market. They also show that despite Brexit, four in five companies say their strategy is to grow exports to the UK.

Nevertheless, Irish companies are still facing practical and logistical problems moving goods across the Irish Sea, said McPartlin.

"They're working through it systematically. This is not over and the teething problems are not going to be a matter of just getting magicked away. New systems came into place, and every time a new system comes into place, there's always associated teething problems with anything. And companies have also realised that there are new levels of complexity that they hadn't expected and they're in the process of working through them."

Some problems may not even have fully manifested themselves yet because the volume of traffic has been lower due to stockpiling and because the UK has introduced easements for an initial six month period to help keep trading routes open.

But McPartlin believes that the UK will remain the right choice of market for many Irish companies. "It's not a case of telling a client where to export to. They will decide that for themselves. But my message would be: don't, don't let the bureaucracy of trade put you off."

Barriers to trade, which have increased due to Brexit, should just be one factor, she said.

"But an attractive market has all sorts of factors - the size of your customer base, the ability to understand that customer base and to understand the competitive landscape you're operating in. The similarities and familiarity between Ireland and the UK will continue to make it a compelling market for Irish companies."

At the height of the political tensions around Brexit, particularly when the Irish border was the key issue, there were strains on the wider relationship.

"There was a slant taken in some of the red tops," she said. "But when it comes down to it there are six million people here in the UK who trace back some kind of Irish ancestry so I think there is an underlying goodwill towards Ireland. From over here when you were looking at how the UK and Brexit were being discussed in Ireland you could see there was hurt and then you'd worry that it was tipping into schadenfreude in some circles."

"Fundamentally, Ireland's success is dependent on the success of its near markets and, whether it's Europe or the UK, for so many companies based in Ireland, the UK just remains such a critical market. So it is in all of our interests that the UK is successful."

She believes that it is crucial that the business relationship between the two islands "isn't threatened or undermined by our emotional response to Brexit, whatever it may be".

"From a business perspective, we're entirely pragmatic. There was a variety of views within the UK, but within the UK they have moved on and, regardless of whether they voted remain or leave, what they're focused on - surprise, surprise - is making their country and their businesses a success.

"Taking the emotion of the politics out of the business relationship has always been the best thing that companies can do. When Brexit happened, there was an emotional responses on all sides. And sometimes in Ireland, we might have forgotten that a lot of people in the UK actually voted for Brexit," she said.

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