A pragmatic UK-EU deal that facilitates continued trade is an imperative in any negotiations over the form for Brexit the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry has claimed.
With the triggering of Article 50 possibly only days away, the organisation has published its business blueprint featuring feedback from more than 400 local companies along with nearly 2,000 responses to Chamber surveys gathered since June last year.
That evidence, it says, confirms that Europe will remain a key market for local exporters and importers well into the future.
As such, the report puts forward priorities for action across seven key areas where the local business community wants practical solutions and certainty:
:: Any return to a hard border between the province and RoI must be avoided, so that people and goods can move as freely as possible
:: There should be certainty for business on the residential rights of their existing EU workers, clarity on hiring from EU countries during the negotiation period, and no expensive and bureaucratic processes for post-Brexit hires from the EU
:: The government should aim to minimise tariffs, seek to avoid costly non-tariff barriers and grandfather existing EU free trade agreements with third countries. The type of trade model developed as a result of the negotiations cannot disadvantage Northern Ireland businesses and the wider economy.
:: The government should develop future customs procedures at the UK border in partnership with business, seek to maintain the UK’s position as an entry point for global businesses to Europe
:: There should be a guarantee that HMRC is appropriately resourced to help businesses through the transition process, and provide clarity on whether VAT legislation will continue to mirror current core VAT principles
:: The government should ensure stability by incorporating existing EU regulations into UK law and maintaining these for a minimum period following Brexit, and ensure that product standards are aligned with, and recognised by, the EU to keep UK products competitive
:: The UK should retain access to the European Investment Bank, and ensure there is no funding ‘cliff-edge’ for areas in receipt of EU funding including Northern Ireland
“Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry members want practical considerations, not ideology or politics, at the heart of the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations,” said chamber president Nick Coburn.
“That also means we must establish a single Northern Ireland voice on Brexit to address key business concerns regarding skills and trade.
“What’s debated in Westminster often isn’t what matters for most businesses, especially in Northern Ireland.
“Most firms care little about the exact process for triggering Article 50, but they care a lot if their products are stopped by customs authorities at the border; or about an unexpected VAT hit to their cash flow, sudden changes to regulation, the inability to recruit the right people for the job, or.
“The everyday nitty-gritty of doing business across borders must be front and centre in the negotiation process.”
He said it was also clear that the eventual Brexit deal was far from the only thing on the minds of the business community.
“An ambitious domestic agenda for business and the economy is also essential so that business can drive our post-Brexit success.
“Firms want a clear assurance that Brexit isn’t going to be the only thing on the government’s economic agenda for the next few years. An investment in skills and prioritising key infrastructure projects for example must not be sent into the background.”