The British Irish Chamber of Commerce: A Week in the Life

There is no such thing as a ‘quiet’ week for the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. The team in Merrion Square, in London and across the constituent regions of the UK are constantly working to ensure the voices of our members are heard and that we make a positive contribution to British-Irish relations. Quiet, along with other words such as ‘inactive’ and ‘idle’ isn’t in our vocabulary. However, every so often it is important to take a moment to look back. Welcome to a week (Tuesday 4 September to Tuesday 11 September 2018 to be precise) in the life of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday 4 September began with an early morning flight to Brussels for my colleague Katie Daughen, our Head of Brexit Policy, and me. The previous week had seen us both travel to Brussels for key stakeholder meetings making this the Chamber’s second journey to the heart of the European Union in as many weeks. Tuesday was another hectic and productive day of meetings with EU officials, politicians and business representative bodies. In six separate meetings over the course of the day, Katie and I presented the Chamber’s ‘Big Principles’ Brexit policy paper to such key EU stakeholders as Iuliu Winkler MEP and Pekka Pesonen & François Guerin of the EU Agriculture representative group Copa Cogeca.

It was another early start on Wednesday as the Chamber hosted its #Agenda2018 Agri-Food Breakfast Seminar in Dublin. Sponsored by KPMG and Ulster Bank, the #Agenda2018 series has seen the Chamber host six different events since February across these two islands. Our latest seminar was an opportunity for business leaders, policy makers and representative organisations in the agri-food sector to discuss the impact of Brexit on the industry. Our fantastic speakers included Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed TD, Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia, Patrick Coveney, CEO of Greencore, Ailish Byrne of Ulster Bank, Nancy Leonard, KPMG in Ireland, Carol-Ann O’Keefe from Revenue, Pamela Byrne, CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), Tony Lewis, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health; and Richard Kennedy, Group CEO, Devenish Nutrition, just returned from Prime Minister May’s trade mission to Africa.  Chaired by Maree Gallagher, Of Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP, a Chamber stalwart and Chair of our Agri-Food Committee, the packed-house seminar focused on how the shared links in the sector between Ireland and the UK can be maintained post-Brexit. Brexit will no doubt change many things, but these links are strong and will remain strong, regardless of the outcome. In Agri-Food, this could not be clearer. Britain’s lack of self-sufficiency in food is filled in no small part by Ireland and British consumers value Irish products for their quality, taste, provenance, safety and value for money. It is thus in our mutual interest to continue to trade. The sector will need to adapt after Brexit but through hard work and perseverance we can ensure that our shared history develops into a shared future.

Thursday was a double-header for the Chamber. In the afternoon, we hosted lunch with Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education in the vibrant surrounds of the Grangegorman campus of Chamber member Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). Bringing together key stakeholders from the Irish Higher Education sector, the meeting built on the Chamber’s work in the Higher Education and Research space over the past year and on our ‘Developing a UK-Ireland Higher Education and Research Partnership’ Conference which was held in the Tower of London in May. Higher Education is a top priority for the Chamber and meetings such as this are vital to a sector for which Brexit can be a catalyst, not a catastrophe. During the meeting, we reiterated our call for the creation of a UK-Ireland bilateral research stream and North-South Academic Corridor, two initiatives that we developed for our Pre-Budget Submission and that we know will help incentivise research collaboration between our two countries.

In the evening we played host to five hundred of our members and guests at our Gala Dinner in Dublin. Sponsored by Bank of Ireland, the Gala Dinner is our signature black tie event.

A sell-out crowd listened to an excellent opening address from newly elected Chamber President John Cronin of McCann FitzGerald who spoke of the fears of businesses regarding Brexit uncertainty but emphasised the desire of the Chamber to make a positive contribution to British-Irish relations.  This was followed by two fantastic keynote speakers; Bank of Ireland Group CEO, Francesca McDonagh and former UK Ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers. Francesca provided a clear and concise business overview and emphasised the importance of UK-Ireland trade. Damaging this trade cannot be an option and she emphasised the need for us to work together, in a calm and cool manner, towards a mutually beneficial future. Sir Ivan’s political keynote built upon this and stressed the dangers of a “No-Deal” Brexit scenario. He emphasised the need for wisdom from all sides so that a stable, long-lasting settlement can be reached that leaves behind the bitterness and toxicity of the past. Sir Ivan’s excellent full speech is available to read on our website here.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were spent in Oxford at the gathering of the British Irish Association (BIA). Founded in 1972, the BIA brings together civic, political and business leaders from across these islands with the aims of promoting mutual understanding between the UK and Ireland, “to identify emerging issues, to support positive change and to look to the future”. Meetings such as this are of vital importance as we continue to work hard to strengthen and develop the links across these two islands.

Our new offices at 13 Merrion Square have played host to several dignitaries from the world of business and politicians from across the political spectrum. On Tuesday 11 September, we were privileged to welcome Sir Keir Starmer; Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU.  Sir Keir travelled to Dublin to meet with our members, government ministers and politicians to discuss Brexit in a series of important meetings. Our thanks go to Chamber Member Diageo for hosting our business gathering with Sir Keir at the iconic Guinness Storehouse.

And so, one more week of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce rolls into the next one. The past week is a textbook case of what the Chamber does for businesses and, more importantly, why we do it. We stand for the continued peace, prosperity and wellbeing of these two islands and meetings and events of the calibre of the last week are typical of how the Chamber and our members will help to achieve that and provide a positive contribution in difficult times.

To keep up to date with all our events and Chamber news, don’t forget to subscribe to our Weekly Digest. We are also always looking for input to our Policy Committees so if you are a member and want to get involved, email our Head of Sectoral Policy, Paul Lynam at paul.lynam@britishirishchamber.com for more information.

On behalf of all at the Chamber team, thanks as always for your great support.

John McGrane

Director General

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