Brexit: NI firms must now assume it’s a case of ‘no deal’ and brace accordingly says major accountancy body

Amid concern about the damage the government’s Internal Market Bill will do to EU-UK relations, a body representing thousands of accountants has declared that businesses now must work under the assumption there will be no deal.

By Adam Kula
Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 7:30 pm
An aerial shot of the Port of Belfast, looking outwards into the lough
An aerial shot of the Port of Belfast, looking outwards into the lough

Chartered Accountants Ireland, which says it represents 4,800 professionals in Northern Ireland (and over 25,000 elsewhere), made the comments as politicians predicted that the controversial bill will effectively scupper the remaining Brexit negotiations.

Meanwhile business lobbyists the Federation of Small Business (FSB) said they continue to hold out hope of striking a “no tariff, no quota” deal with the EU which they hope would solve many of the outstanding problems of cross-border trade.

Chartered Accountants Ireland said that firms “must abandon the ‘wait and see’ approach and prepare for tariffs and quotas on imports and exports” because “they have no option but to assume the EU and the UK will fail to reach agreement”.

Its public policy figure Cróna Clohisey said: “Even in the best-case scenario, if the UK and EU reach some sort of agreement on trade, there isn’t time for it to be the comprehensive free trade deal that was hailed during the Brexit referendum– that process takes months, even years to arrive at.

“The best we can expect is the bare bones of a deal which will likely prioritise avoiding the imposition of tariffs and quotas on goods and is unlikely to extend fully to services.”

There are a handful of things businesses should now do immediately, they said.

Firstly, they register online with HMRC or Irish Revenue for an EORI number (Economic Operators Registration and Identification), without which “you cannot trade”.

They also recommend classifying any goods that are being imported and exported (including establishing their origin) for customs duty.

Setting up a line of credit “to deal with the customs duties that will arise on imports from the UK or Ireland” is also important, they said.

Tina McKenzie of the FSB’s Northern Irish branch noted that about 16 weeks remain for the UK to strike a final agreement with the EU, and “it is important that we continue to concentrate on the matter at hand”.

She said a “zero-tariff, zero-quota” system is “the prize on which we must continue to focus; something which is ultimately in the mutual interest of all parties”.

Meanwhile the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (which says it represents 750,000 workers across the island (including 200,000 in Northern Ireland) said that by pursuing a bill which is being widely interpreted as over-riding the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, the London government has thrown away the “good faith and trust” needed for any further negotiations.

Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy accused the government of forcing through an unneccearily tough Brexit to “pander to English nationalism at the cost of everything else”.

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