Business groups across the UK and the Republic of Ireland have joined forces to call for a concerted effort to safeguard trade post Brexit.
Six months ahead of the March deadline, the British Chambers of Commerce, NI Chamber and Chambers Ireland said businesses in all jursidictions need speed and precision injected into negotiations to produce an agreement offering “clarity and continuity for trade within and between these islands”.
Leaders from the organisations are to meet in Dublin later today to discuss the threat of what they termed a “messy or disorderly Brexit, which would be hugely disruptive to trading firms and key transport links in all jurisdictions”.
A survey, published in tandem from the British Chambers of Commerce, one of the biggest on business opinion since the referendum, has found companies in Northern Ireland would be particularly exposed to the ramifications of ‘no deal.
In short, it found that 41% of NI companies 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 have already noticed a decrease in the value of EU contracts (18%) and in the number of EU workers (17%) in the last 12 months.
The survey also reports that 20% of BCC members trade with the Republic of Ireland via air or sea, while 17% trade via the Irish land border.
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.
“Politicians on all sides need to focus their attention and energies on getting an agreement over the line within the next two months,” said BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall.
“Businesses across the UK and Ireland have been patiently awaiting answers to the many questions which Brexit poses about future trading conditions, but time is running out and they need clarity.
“The flow of trade across the island of Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic and Great Britain, is the lifeblood of many trading firms,” he added.
“Practical solutions must be found to support and maintain these vital economic and trade links.”
Northern Ireland Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said local member businesses had been clear from the outset that neither a hard border with the Republic of Ireland nor and Irish Sea arrangement was acceptable.
“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,” she said.
The build up to the UK leaving the EU had been having a largely negative impact on Northern Ireland businesses in terms of costs, sales, non-national jobs and investment plans in particular she added.
“It is vital that politicians on all sides get an agreement over the line as soon as possible to provide businesses with the much needed certainty that is required for them to plan ahead.”
Welcoming his colleagues to Dublin, CEO of Chambers Ireland Ian Talbot, said their relationship had never been stronger and would be of great benefit “as we navigate this extraordinarily turbulent period and forge a new trading relationship”.
“However, politicians must accept that businesses cannot operate on the basis of “snap” decisions but instead require realistic timeframes, so they can establish project plans, and allocate appropriate resources,” he insisted.
“Not having enough time to do so will inevitably result in unnecessary upheaval and economic pain,” he said.