Kirsty McManus: No time to take foot off Brexit preparation pedal
Brexit may not be happening this Thursday any longer, but that doesn't mean businesses - and the Government - can take their feet off the pedals when it comes to preparations.
The announcement by the European Union yesterday morning that they approved of a lengthening of the Brexit process until as late as January 31, 2020 had been widely anticipated.
A caveat would allow the UK to depart the EU earlier (on December 1 or January 1) if Boris Johnson's deal could get the full backing of Parliament.
The plan would also see EU leaders "firmly" exclude any further negotiations and reopening of the withdrawal agreement.
For the business community, any extension provides an opportunity to step up preparations in areas where it had been lacking and double check existing contingency plans to ensure they are as robust as they can be, considering the circumstances.
The Government, meanwhile, must also grasp this opportunity to provide significantly greater details on what the current deal means - particularly for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Grave concerns remain about the possibility of divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the future and the fragmentation of the domestic UK market that could occur as a result. The fact that the Government's own impact assessment outlines that an increasing burden of red tape and bureaucracy could be placed on local businesses, especially around new customs requirements, is deeply worrying.
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It also remains unclear whether Northern Ireland will benefit from any future EU or UK trade agreements.
Throughout October we have been meeting business leaders, both members and non-members, across Northern Ireland as part of our Brexit Ready NI initiative.
At a series of advice clinics in Londonderry, Cookstown and Belfast, we provided one-on-one advice, alongside our partners KPMG, to dozens of companies.
Meanwhile, a Meet the Experts lunch in Belfast on Friday was attended by more than 140 senior businessmen and women. Their appetite to avail of the expertise on offer illustrated the tremendous desire among the business community to get to the detail in Brexit and understand where their organisations need to adjust in order, not just to cope with upcoming changes but to flourish.
Businesses also continue to access advice via our dedicated Brexit.ReadyNI@iod.com email address through which they can secure tailored guidance on any Brexit related matter.
The next 72 hours may not represent the final countdown that has long been expected, but there is no time to hit the pause button on Brexit preparations.
- Kirsty McManus is the national director of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Northern Ireland