Belfast Telegraph

Aodhan Connolly: Real sting in the Brexit tail will be radical changes in all areas of our lives

By Aodhan Connolly

Usually at this time of year retailers are counting down to Christmas, and rightly so, as the month of December accounts for about an eighth of what retailers sell across the whole year.

But this year is different.

This year we are counting down to Brexit and at the moment a no-deal scenario is becoming more and more likely, causing great concern to Northern Ireland's high streets.

A no-deal outcome means that there will be no transition, no cushion for business or consumers, and it means that life will change radically on 29 March, 2019. We will fall out of the EU single market and into World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs.

Those tariffs would mean that prices for consumers will almost certainly go up.

That French Camembert on the post-Christmas dinner cheeseboard could become as much as 30% more expensive, and imported meat products could be up by similar amounts. And that is before we start adding the non-tariff barriers that on food and beverage can be up to 29% of the cost of the product.

There are those who say that our trade with the rest of the UK far outweighs our trade with Ireland and the EU, and they are right, it is bigger.

But what they are not saying is that everything from manufacturing components to food ingredients can come from Ireland or the EU so integrated are our supply chains, or the fact that 60% of our goods go across the border to get to GB. But most of all, they want us to make it a binary choice of trade with the UK, or trade with the EU. However, our integrated trade has not been built up in the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, it has been built up over 40 years of being a member of the EU.

We need both markets to allow business to be successful and to protect our consumers.

There are those who argue that we will get trade deals and they may be right. Trade deals will come, but the average length of time to make a free trade agreement is over four years and many can take double that.

Here in Northern Ireland we already have a lower economic starting point. We already have half of the discretionary income of households in the UK. We already have the highest level of indebtedness of anywhere in the UK and we already pay more for everything from car insurance to fuel.

Households and businesses here cannot afford the price rises caused by a no-deal for six months never mind four years.

But it is not just the trade, customs tariffs and delays. Overnight, we will fall out of thousands of pieces of legislation and regulation and we lose cooperation on civil judicial matters, telecoms, data flow, driver licensing, motor insurance, intellectual property, and the list goes on and on. There will be effects in every part of our lives. Look at the industries who are standing together: retail, manufacturing, farming, processing, freight, hospitality and others. Then ask yourself, why these diverse sectors are standing together for the first time.

My letter to Santa is very short this year. Can we have a deal please?

Aodhan Connolly is director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

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