Tuesday 20 March 2018

We must work with UK on Brexit - €60bn and 400,000 jobs depend on it

A demonstrator wears an EU-themed T-shirt during a protest in in London yesterday (Reuters)
A demonstrator wears an EU-themed T-shirt during a protest in in London yesterday (Reuters)

John McGrane

As the old adage goes, "may you live in interesting times". With the triggering of Article 50 now imminent, the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum now certain, and a now very different looking Northern Irish Assembly, these are interesting times indeed.

The challenges facing businesses in Ireland and the UK as a result of Brexit are well known.

Declining sterling, potential increased costs to trade, and the prospect of a Border on the island of Ireland all stand to disrupt the close trading relationship that we currently enjoy and that benefits our economies to the tune of €60bn a year, supporting 400,000 jobs.

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce champions this trade and will continue to do so through the unpredictable and uncertain times ahead.

We want to see a trade deal finalised that will benefit both the UK and the EU. We believe this is essential, as a bad deal for the UK will be a bad deal for Ireland and should be avoided at all costs.

The importance of achieving this becomes evident when you look at the integrated trading relationships and supply chains that exist throughout the EU, including the UK.

There is no such thing as a British car or sandwich anymore.

Your Scottish pizza is often made using Irish ingredients.

And that icon of British manufacturing, the Bentley, while assembled in the UK, is done so using a Bratislava chassis, German engine and Irish trim, and is often paid for using finance arranged through Ireland's International Financial Services Centre.

Interesting times present interesting challenges and I believe now is the time to look to one of the greatest economic minds this country has ever produced - TK Whitaker - for inspiration, and to think big and to be brave.

We have a historical and familial link with the UK that will not end as a result of Brexit. Therefore we must look at new ways of protecting this relationship and ensuring it prospers into the future.

One way of achieving this is through the development of a UK/Ireland powerhouse strategy. Working together, we can limit the potential damage that Brexit might inflict on our economies.

Ireland is currently the next best option for those in the UK and can offer firms an assured EU base. By forming strategic partnerships we can ensure that the trade between our islands continues beyond this phase and we can protect sectors at risk such as the City of London, university research, and the all-island trade on the island of Ireland.

We also need a mature response from our public representatives. Brexit is likely to outlive any one government and therefore we believe a national strategic opportunity plan, with buy in from all parties, should be advanced to provide businesses with the stability they need at this critical time.

In the interim there are some practical solutions that should be sought by both the Irish and UK governments as we enter negotiations.

A transition framework will be essential if we are to avoid deep and dangerous uncertainty and should be secured as early as possible.

When feasible, clear updates on the negotiation process should be communicated in good faith so as to avoid "fake news".

Nobody has left anything yet. We all have important work to do together to make parting not such sweet sorrow, but a suitably amicable affair.

John McGrane is the director general of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce

Irish Independent

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