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Business chiefs left angry and astounded by Government’s ‘phone Dublin’ Brexit advice


Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab makes a speech outlining the Government’s plans

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab makes a speech outlining the Government’s plans

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Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab makes a speech outlining the Government’s plans

Business leaders in Northern Ireland have said it is "extraordinary" and "unacceptable" that the UK Government has told them to contact the Irish Government for advice in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit.

Manufacturing NI said London appeared to be indifferent as to how local businesses operate.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said businesses here trading across the border should contact Dublin for advice if London fails to broker a deal with the EU.

He was speaking as he released the nine-page 'Trading with the EU if there's no Brexit deal' technical notice.

The Brexit Department urged businesses here to contact Dublin for advice, stating: "The Irish Government have indicated they would need to discuss arrangements in the event of a no deal with the European Commission and EU member states.

"We would recommend that, if you trade across the land border you should consider whether you will need advice from the Irish Government about preparations you need to make."

In a statement, Manufacturing NI said: "The fear was that there was little understanding in Whitehall.

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"Now there appears to be little care about how Northern Ireland businesses actually operate.

"Advising firms to 'speak to the Irish' is extraordinary.

"The UK Government has a responsibility to deliver the Brexit they've chosen in a way which does not damage jobs and livelihoods.

"Only business can make Brexit work, so brushing our firms off and telling them to go sort our own problems out by speaking to Dublin is not acceptable."

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Ann McGregor said yesterday's Brexit papers had "two key outcomes for Northern Ireland businesses - it confuses them more and increases their costs".

She added: "This, in tandem with the lack of key infrastructure decisions that can be made here, amplifies the need for an Executive to return to represent Northern Ireland at this critical time."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann MLA said he had spoken to Secretary of State Karen Bradley following the paper's publication.

He expressed concern at the section that "appeared in the guidance relating to trade which included a passage that referred specifically to Northern Ireland and cross border trade".

Mr Swann said: "As unionists, we have always been acutely aware of the economic importance of access to the UK's internal market, but we also recognise and welcome the extent of cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland.

"As we approach the endgame in terms of Brexit negotiations, it is essential that as much clarity and certainty as possible are reached with regard to trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"In the absence of any local ministers at Stormont, I have urged the Secretary of State to ensure that message is conveyed to those in London who are at the heart of the Brexit negotiations."

Sinn Fein said the paper showed the Tories' "absolute contempt and blatant disregard" people here.

Party vice-president Michelle O'Neill said: "The guidance published confirms the disastrous consequences of Brexit, including more bureaucracy and more expense for businesses.

"It also confirms the British Government's utter lack of preparation for the no deal scenario they are hurtling towards."

She called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney to "stand up for the rights of Irish citizens" and for a special meeting on Brexit between Britain and the EU next month "to deal exclusively with the arrangements for the North".

SDLP deputy leader Claire Hanna hit out at London's "abysmal approach".

"The absence of the backstop in (this) publication is an extremely worrying development; though far from a panacea, it was the only protection given to us in the event of crashing out of the EU," she said.

"From the outset, the SDLP have been clear that a 'no deal' Brexit will be catastrophic for the people of this island.

"The only way to ensure our way of life is untouched is to remain within the single market and customs union."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was "farcical" for the Government to suggest cross-border businesses should contact Dublin for advice in the event of a no deal Brexit.

"Little consideration has been given to the differential impact of a no deal scenario upon Northern Ireland," he said.

"In particular, there is no clarity on how a hard border on the island of Ireland can be avoided. Northern Ireland businesses and other stakeholders are going to be left in limbo for even longer."

Retail Northern Ireland chief executive Glyn Roberts said he was concerned that a no deal Brexit could result in higher food prices, increased delays and red tape at borders, and a possible VAT hike for consumers and businesses.

"We would urge the UK Government and EU to redouble its efforts to secure an agreement that enables our economy to move forward," he added.

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma said: "The fact that Northern Ireland has had no formal role or position in the negotiation process has resulted in an even greater potential for Brexit to negatively impact the lives of children and young people, especially if it is a 'no deal' scenario."

Mr Raab said the Government was committed to ensuring there was no hard border and pledged it would do nothing to disrupt the Good Friday Agreement.

Key points from the papers detailing what might happen if there’s no deal with EU

The Government has released 24 papers outlining preparations and scenarios that could play out if no Brexit deal can be agreed before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

The key points are:

  • The removal of an EU ban on credit and debit card surcharges “likely” to increase shopping costs.
  • UK citizens living in Europe face the possibility of losing access to their pension income.
  • Consumers would face another potential cost increase when online shopping, with parcels arriving in the UK no longer liable for low value consignment relief (LVCR) on VAT.
  • Businesses exporting to Europe may have to “renegotiate commercial terms”.
  • The firms may also need to pay out for new software.
  • Companies exporting across the Irish border should “consider whether you will need advice from the Irish Government about preparations you need to make”.
  • Importing nuclear materials from the EU may require a licence.
  • Medicines and other medical products will have to go through “national assessment”.
  • NHS patients may face delays accessing innovative treatments.
  • Cigarette packet health warnings would change as current images are copyrighted to the EU.
  • Organic food producers face certification issues if exporting.
  • The Government is planning to recruit an extra 9,000 Brexit staff into the Civil Service.
  • The Government will pay for British aid organisation programmes whose funding could be ended in the event of no deal.