Another busy year in the policy and advocacy space has drawn to a conclusion for the Chamber. The year started with the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the UK and the EU. The deal was welcomed by the Chamber as it ensured zero tariffs and zero quotas on trade between the UK and the EU in all goods that comply with the appropriate rules of origin. It also set out preferential arrangements for the trade of services. This Agreement was indeed a positive outcome for businesses across the UK – Ireland trading space. That being said, the Chamber has always argued that there would never be a “Good Brexit”. In reflection, a year on, there has been two very different outcomes for Irish and British exporters. Exports to the UK from Ireland have held up remarkably well in fact growing by 20% on 2020. Conversely, imports from the UK to Ireland are down significantly, in fact more than a third. A key factor in this disparity is due to the fact that the UK Government introduced temporary easements on all imports from the EU.

In September, the UK Government had announced a revised timetable for the final stages of the introduction of controls on incoming goods. These controls relate primarily to customs, SPS controls, and safety and security declarations. The first phase of these new controls was to be implemented on 1 January 2022.

However, the UK Government has noted that the implementation of these new arrangements for goods moving from the island of Ireland on this date, whether from Ireland or from Northern Ireland, is particularly complex. This is because there are specific treaty and legislative commitments to “unfettered access” for goods from Northern Ireland, because there are currently “standstill” arrangements in place for the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and because negotiations on the Protocol itself are still under way and will not be definitively completed by 1 January.

Given this wider uncertainty and complexity, and the undesirability of bringing in new changes while the Protocol arrangements themselves remain unsettled and while diversion of trade is already occurring, the UK Government has decided, on a temporary basis, to maintain current arrangements for moving goods from the island of Ireland to Great Britain for as long as discussions on the Protocol are ongoing.

This means that goods moving from the island of Ireland directly to Great Britain will continue to do so on the basis of the arrangements that apply currently, until further notice; and will not, for now, be affected by the changes being introduced on 1 January for all other inbound goods.

Meanwhile, the EU – UK Partnership Council and the various Specialised Committees have begun to meet. The Chamber has been feeding into this process, and we have recently been appointed to the European Commission’s TCA Domestic Advisory Group with observer status, through the business federations sub-group. This group acts as a conduit to give real-time, real-world feedback to the Commission on issues arising from the application of the TCA.

The Chamber remains the leading organisation across these islands at the forefront of policy developments in the UK – Ireland trade space. Over the last 12 months, the Chamber has had numerous engagements with political leaders, committees and representatives from Ireland, the EU, and the UK. The executive team has given evidence to the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Seanad Specialised Committee on Brexit, the British Irish Parliamentary Association, the UK Committee for Exiting the European Union, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade & Export Promotion and to the EU Commission and Parliamentary Committees.

The Northern Ireland Protocol and Article 16

The Northern Ireland Protocol (which keeps Northern Ireland aligned to EU rules on goods) continues to be the dominant point of friction between the EU and the UK.  The UK Government is making the case that the current implementation of the Protocol is having a profound impact on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK wants the EU to apply “flexibility”, “pragmatism” and “common sense solutions”. The UK Government’s Command Paper ‘Northern Ireland Protocol: the way forward’ sets out areas which they want changed within the Protocol including the need to remove the burdens on trade in goods within the UK while managing the real risks to the EU Single Market, they also want to implement a “full dual regulatory regime in Northern Ireland” and remove the oversight of the ECJ. For their part, the EU has put forward bespoke arrangements to reduce SPS checks by 80% and remove 50% of customs paperwork. In recent weeks progress has been made and the threat of the UK triggering Article 16 has abated for now. The oversight of the ECJ remains a sticking point in the talks. The Chamber for its part maintains the closest levels of engagement with our members most impacted by the Protocol and likeminded representative groups in the North.

A New Era for UK – Ireland Trade

Over the last number of months, the Chamber has been encouraged by our members who remain committed to UK – Ireland trade and who have been in touch with us as to enquire about establishing/expanding their operation across the Irish Sea. Prior to Brexit and Covid this trade was worth €90bn per annum and directly supported 400,000 jobs across these islands. Despite recent challenges Ireland remains the UK’s 5th biggest export market. In addition, FDI investment from the UK into Ireland is worth about €60bn while Irish FDI Investment into the UK is worth €95bn.  In this regard, the Chamber will do all we can to best inform our members directly or to make important introductions either with other businesses or with British and Irish State agencies. My colleague, our London Director, David O’Reilly’s “Connecting to Trade” programme continues to go from strength to strength as we look forward to returning to physical trade missions once it is safe and appropriate to do so.

Our various policy committees maintain their robust commitment to developing the trading and economic relationship between the UK and Ireland, from progressing the offshore wind sector to maintaining data adequacy between the EU and the UK to advocating for greater research cooperation across these islands. The Chamber has worked to ensure that our members and our sectoral committees are afforded an opportunity to engage directly with key stakeholders in the UK – Ireland space. This has included roundtable discussions with Brandon Lewis MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, HE Paul Johnston, British Ambassador to Ireland, Simon Hoare MP, Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Maros Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission, Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath TD Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Conor Murphy MLA, Minister for Finance NI Executive.

Progress in Policy:

  • The Chamber continues to have an impressive record in advocating its policy positions. We are grateful to Minister Byrne, Minister for European Affairs for acknowledging the Chamber’s work in advocating for an EU-wide Brexit Mitigation Fund since 2017. We are delighted that the EU has confirmed that Ireland will receive aprox. €1bn from the Brexit Adjustment Fund and we will engage with Minister Byrne and Minister McGrath to ensure this resource is spent most prudently.
  • One of the most important sectoral areas for the Chamber is Higher Education and Research; we were delighted to see €40m allocated to research from the Shared Island Fund for north-south research. Members will recall that the Chamber has been advocating for an All-Island Research Fund for some time and we are hoping that this fund will act as a catalyst for further collaborations.
  • In August, the Chamber submitted its Pre-Budget Submission to the relevant Ministers and civil servants. The Chamber had a subsequent meeting with the Tánaiste to discuss our proposals. The Tánaiste was receptive to the idea of a “Shared Islands Fund” and intends to raise it with the British government. The Chamber’s media launch for our submission attracted substantial media Coverage.
  • In August, in conjunction with Bank of Ireland the Chamber held a technical roundtable with British and Irish Agri-food companies to talk through the challenges the companies had faced since Brexit. The Chamber has used the key outputs of this Roundtable as part of our policy development.
  • In October, our revived ICT Committee made a submission to the consultation on UK data protection laws.
  • The Chamber noted that in its final report the Seanad Specialised Committee on Brexit endorsed several of the Chamber’s suggestions.

Notwithstanding the challenges we have all faced in relation to Covid over the past 20 months and the ongoing challenges associated with Brexit, we look forward to next year with renewed optimism and confidence. As always, if we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.