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Neale Richmond: Government can only do so much, businesses must now prepare for Brexit

Neale Richmond says businesses must be on guard and ready for what Brexit brings, regardless of what comes of the fractured political process.

Neale Richmond

BETWEEN THE COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid approach of the end of the Brexit transition period, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Irish people and businesses.

One thing we can be certain of is that come January, Brexit will bring huge changes to Ireland and how we do business. The Government has been preparing for Brexit since well before the first deadline of 29 March 2019 and this work has intensified in recent months.

This past week we have seen the EU begin an infringement process against the UK over the Internal Market Bill which is in contravention of the ‘good faith’ protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the ninth round of trade negotiations begin in Brussels.

An agreement must be reached by Halloween to avoid a hard Brexit. While the chances of a deal are slim, it is still very much possible. European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister will take stock today of where these negotiations stand.

Looking like a no-deal

However, due to the lack of progress in negotiations, in May 2020 the Government agreed to step up the no-deal preparations and at this stage, it is most likely that if there is a deal, it will be extremely limited.

No matter what form Brexit takes come January, the UK will leave the Single Market and Customs Union. Customs checks will be required on goods moving to, from or through the UK and significant disruption to business-as-usual is guaranteed. 

The Government has been focused on helping businesses prepare themselves for Brexit as far back as 2019 when the ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ campaign was rolled out at a cost of €1.5 million to ensure that all businesses were aware of the steps they needed to take to prepare themselves.

This September, the updated Brexit Readiness Action Plan was published to support the preparatory work needed for the permanent changes that Brexit will bring. No matter what size a business is, it is crucial that this work in undertaken.

A €20 million Brexit fund was established to help Irish businesses who trade with the UK to put in place the necessary systems to prepare for the forthcoming customs arrangements.

Additionally, investments in infrastructure at our ports and airports have been ramped up substantially to prepare for the eventual introduction of such checks on EU-UK trade passing through Ireland.

We have also secured an increase in the share of customs collection costs retained by us to 25%. This will provide us with a buffer should costs increase over time. 

Preparing for January

Crucially, a new Brexit Omnibus Bill will be brought to the Oireachtas in the coming weeks by Minister Simon Coveney. The first Brexit Omnibus Bill in 2019 dealt with preparations for a potential no-deal Brexit and the forthcoming version will address the permanent changes that will arise in January. The Bill will protect our citizens and allow the sectors most impacted by Brexit to operate without disadvantage.

The EU has been a strong ally to Ireland throughout the Brexit process and this support shows no signs of waning.

The €1.82 trillion Covid-19 recovery fund agreed by EU leaders includes a €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve which will protect those Member States most affected by Brexit. Ireland is well positioned to benefit substantially from this fund given our unique position and shared border with the UK. 

The past four years have been dominated by uncertainty for Irish businesses and the Covid-19 pandemic has only added to this stress. The Government has committed to doing all it can to protect its citizens and businesses from the onslaught that Brexit will bring come January.

However, there is only so much the Government can do. Businesses must be proactive and take Government advice to prepare as best as they can. Businesses have not been left wanting in the Government’s Brexit preparation and this will only grow as we move closer to 1 January. 

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There is no such thing as a good Brexit for anyone, but we can all work to limit the negative impact. If you have any concerns, check out www.gov.ie/brexit.

Neale Richmond is a Fine Gael TD and the party’s spokesperson on European Affairs.

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