Thursday 18 January 2018

Government’s all-island Brexit forum risks becoming a talking shop

Stock image / PA
Stock image / PA
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The Government’s all-island Brexit forum risks becoming a talking shop unless it leads to “concrete proposals”, the Centre for Cross Border Studies has said.

Its deputy director Dr Anthony Soares suggested it shouldn't become an arena for groups simply to air their concerns.

The forum is set to take place on November 2 in Dublin involving business people, political parties and members of civic society. The DUP and UUP have already said they will not be attending.

“There has been concerns voiced that this initiative will just be a talking shop, and there is a possibility that it might be a talking shop … if people are just talking about their concerns, the concerns that have already been identified repeatedly,” Dr Soares told a UK House of Lords Committee examining the impact of Brexit on Irish/UK relations, during a sitting in Belfast.

“It will become less of a talking shop if we have various sectors and business .. presenting a concrete vision, concrete proposals on how we take things forward.”

Earlier, Peter Sheridan, the chief executive of the Cooperation Ireland charity, and a former assistant chief constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), said the policing relationships on both sides of the island will continue even after a Brexit. But he suggested there was the potential for border crime in terms of smuggling to heighten, particularly if a customs border is put in place.

“The day to day relationship between the police here and An Garda Siochana will not change. But it’s sharing of intelligence, the movement of criminals across the border, smuggling, if there is any sort of border again, particularly if there are trade tariffs, the likelihood of smuggling again becoming particularly relevant, they’d need to be very alert for,” Mr Sheridan said.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in the North warned that EU migrants working in Northern Ireland could move to the Republic because of the plunging value of sterling, leaving a labour shortage in the north.

“We do fear and some businesses do fear that these migrant workers may prefer to live in the Republic of Ireland so that they can maintain their standard of living,” said Angela McGowan, the head of the CBI in the north.

Northern Ireland, along with Scotland, voted to remain in the EU in June’s Brexit referendum, while England and Wales voted to pull out.

Economists have argued the north is the UK region most vulnerable to a so-called Brexit.

Declan Billington, of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said 60pc of those working in agri-food factories in the north are non UK nationals.

“Any restrictions on access to labour, or any challenges to that labour workforce, could restrict our ability to standstill, never mind grow,” he said.

"The unique position of Northern Ireland is that if we struggle to get access to labour, and our businesses are run on an all-island economy, it’s not unlikely that businesses would relocate their processing facilities across the border where they will have free aceess to labour.

"So the point is, elsewhere in the UK, if you have labour shortages, it is a problem that you have to address. "In Northern Ireland, economics will pull some of our business across the border."

Ms McGowan also said that Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire needs to be closely involved in the Brexit negotiations, after it emerged that the latter will not be permanently on the UK government’s powerful Brexit Cabinet Committee.

Mr Brokenshire will instead attend meetings of the committee, which is mapping out Britain's exit from the European Union, at the request of Prime Minister Theresa May.

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