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EU negotiator will visit the border to assess the risks posed by Brexit

By Ed Carty

Europe's chief Brexit negotiator is to travel to the border and see first-hand where the UK split from the European Union is likely to be most keenly felt.

During a two-day visit to the Republic, Michel Barnier will also address a joint sitting of the Irish parliament next week.

This is a privilege normally only afforded to visiting heads of state and prime ministers, and he joins esteemed speakers such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and John F Kennedy.

Mr Barnier will appear before the joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad next Thursday, when he will deliver a speech on his priorities for the Brexit negotiations.

It will be the first such address since the President of the EU Parliament Martin Schulz addressed the houses five years ago. In the past decade, it has occurred only four times.

While in the Republic, it is understood Mr Barnier will make a journey to better understand the risks to Europe's only land border with the UK.

Meanwhile, a high dependency on migrant labour along the border counties has been highlighted in new academic research examining the potential impact of Brexit.

The Ulster University findings were presented at a conference in Co Fermanagh bringing together local authorities from both sides of the border.

The border councils commissioned the analysis to inform the debate about what could lie ahead when the UK leaves the European Union.

As expected, it flagged potential risks to trade and movement of goods and services, particularly in the agri-food sector.

Lead researcher Eoin Magennis said a "surprising finding" was the number of non-UK/Irish workers employed in the border counties.

"That is an area of exposure - depending on how the issue of freedom of movement plays out," he said.

The research found that in the manufacturing industry, 33% of the workforce along the border was neither Irish nor British.

For Northern Ireland as a whole, it is about 25% and the Irish Republic's average is closer to 20%.

Mr Magennis, senior economist at Ulster University's economic policy centre, said difficulties sourcing the required staff locally had led to the reliance on migrant labour.

"Companies have struggled to find the skills locally and that is one of the issues going back over a long period," he said.

The conference at the Lough Erne Resort near Enniskillen was held as the Irish government published a survey indicating that three in four small to medium businesses south of the border predicted a future Brexit impact.

While 65% of the 1,045 enterprises surveyed recorded no or minimal effect to date, they were less confident about the road ahead.

Only a quarter felt there would be no impact in the next 18 months.

Those identified as most at risk were small businesses with 50 employees or fewer; firms in the border counties; and those involved in food exports.

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