Brexit – They think it’s all over, it nearly is.

After four and a half years, three Prime Ministers, three Taoisigh, two EU Commission Presidents, several deadlines missed, and cliff edges avoided, the end of EU–UK talks is near. From 2016 – 2020 the Chamber has strived to get your message across for tariff free and full market access between the EU and the UK that respects the Single Market and honours the Good Friday Agreement. As we enter “extra time” in these negotiations, we share the view of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that a “landing zone” for a deal is in sight.

Agreement is reported to have been reached in key areas such as trade in goods, services, transport, energy and UK participation in EU programmes with Minister Simon Coveney stating that he believed that a deal was “98%” done. So where does that leave negotiations? While details are still unclear, agreement has been reached on “Dispute Settlement” and “Governance” – this is a significant development because any agreement would have to respect UK sovereignty while ensuring arbitrated decisions are binding.

On agreeing Level Playing Field (LPF) provisions, both sides are more optimistic today than they were just 10 days ago. When Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnston spoke last Sunday, it was to agree whether they believed they could find a pathway to a compromise on LPF provisions. Both sides seem to agree to a high-level principled approach to State Aid provisions. However, the ‘wedge’ issue between both sides is now labour and environmental standards with the EU wanting the UK to align with EU requirements. The UK has rejected this on the grounds of sovereignty but there is a view that other ways of achieving the same objective can be explored.

It seems that the final pinch point of “Fisheries” remains. The UK view is that it should be treated as an independent coastal state as is standard practice in Free Trade Agreement negotiations. However Coastal members of the EU are adamant that the concerns of the EU’s fishing community should not be disregarded in the final makeup of the trade deal. The perspective within the EU seems to be that failure to reach a deal would be the very worst outcome for the EU fishing sector not least in Ireland. Any deal that is reached should ensure, that the fishing sector, as well as the coastal towns it represents, are is supported by the EU as a whole. Two weeks ago, the EU made a substantive offer to the UK offering repatriation of 15%-18% of the value of stocks caught in the Channel, Irish Sea and north-east Atlantic. The UK has described this offer as “derisory” counteroffering that 60% of the stock caught should be handed back to the UK – this is down from 80%. In an effort to get a deal across the line, Michel Barnier is attempting to link “access to waters” with “access to markets” – if there is to be a review on fishing in five years’ time, then there should be a review on the UK’s access to the EU market.

With only two weeks to go until the end of the transition period, the Chamber is urging the EU and UK negotiators to take inspiration from the successful resolution of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Measures such as scheduled reviews and grace periods for implementation can help to resolve the current impasse.
With 98% of a deal reported to be in place, it would be a great failure for diplomacy if this critical deal falls at the last hurdle.

Plan for Brexit and Prepare for Trade after it.

While we are confident that a deal will be reached between the EU and the UK, it is not yet certain. What we do know is that any agreement will be limited in its scope and range. We also know that from 1 January 2021, the UK will be classified as a ‘third country’ in line with the EU’s Union Customs Code (UCC).

Even at this late stage, our message to members is:

  • Plan for Brexit: Ensure your supply chain is prepared, avail of government supports and seek advice to any query you may have. Our website www.brexitproofme.com allows companies to gain access to a network of service providers that can help your business prepare.
  • Prepare for trade after Brexit: Make sure you have a plan to protect and grow your presence in the UK. While Brexit will slow trade growth, the UK will remain the 6th biggest economy in the world and our leading trading partner. Businesses that prepare well will have a strategic advantage over those who do not.

If you have any questions on Brexit, please do not hesitate to contact Paul Lynam, Director of Policy at paul.lynam@britishirishchamber.com / +353 (0) 86 049 9252.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Regardless of what happens in the coming days in the EU–UK negotiations, the Northern Ireland Protocol will be in effect.

  • There will be no border infrastructure on the Island of Ireland
  • There is no requirement for export declarations for Northern Ireland traders moving their goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
  • Goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland which are ‘not at risk’ from moving into the EU will not be subject to tariffs.
  • Supermarkets and trusted suppliers will benefit from a ‘grace period’ until 1 April 2021 where they will not have to provide SPS paperwork when moving goods from Britain to Northern Ireland. During this period UK and EU rules will remain aligned.
  • EU State Aid measures will apply to Northern Ireland.
  • The Single Electricity Market will continue to operate on an all-island basis.
  • In 2024, the Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to review the protocol.

While numerous issues remain to be ironed out, this is a diplomatic triumph for Irish, EU and UK diplomates and civil servants who deserve immense credit in achieving what many commentators described as the impossible.

Paul Lynam
Director of Policy