Irish CEO says ‘no catastrophic failure’ in trade after Brexit – but UK to NI is crippled

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Ian Talbot, CEO of business group Chambers Ireland, said post-Brexit moves in trade are the result of businesses in Ireland and Northern Ireland adapting to Britain’s exit from the European Union. 40 percent of Northern Ireland’s goods exports were to the Republic of Ireland last year compared to seven percent to the UK. Goods imports to the province from south of the border totalled 36 percent compared with three percent from the rest of the UK, according to figures published by the House of Commons Library.

These percentages would suggest trade between the province and the rest of the UK is failing.

On Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements, Mr Talbot said: “There’s no catastrophic failures anywhere. There’s no port lying idle, there’s no road idle. Trade is happening and in large numbers.”

He cautioned that many of the changes in trading and movement of goods on the island of Ireland came during disruptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

Mr Talbot said: “With the impact of Covid and the lockdowns, it’s very hard to unravel all that when you’re comparing. What year do you compare it to?”

Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, which represents industry in the region, told the same publication: “What was clearly happening was that Irish buyers were moving away from GB suppliers and continuing their trade with the UK by buying from Belfast rather than Birmingham.”

During the first year of Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal, trade between the Republic of Ireland and the region soared with imports up 65 percent and exports to the province 54 percent higher.

This suggested stronger ties between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

As part of Britain’s exit from the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government and the EU agreed to effectively leave Northern Ireland within the bloc’s single market for goods and customs union given its open border with Ireland, a member of the EU.

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The deal created a customs border in the Irish Sea between the rest of the United Kingdom and the province.

Pro-British communities say the deal erodes their place within the UK.

The UK Government says the red tape created by the Northern Ireland Protocol is intolerable and it threatens the 1998 peace agreement which mostly ended 30 years of sectarian violence.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which fears a loosening of ties with the British mainland, wants the removal of all checks or planned post-Brexit checks on goods moving from Britain to the region. It has said the UK’s threat to act unilaterally is not enough.

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Under London’s plan, new legislation would ease the movement of goods, apply Britain’s tax regime to Northern Ireland and hand the UK Government more say over laws governing the province.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill includes a green lane for products destined only for Northern Ireland, thus avoiding the hated checks required for the EU.

Mr Kelly said elements of the Bill, the green lane included, are “not offensive”, though there are doubts over how easy it will be to implement.

He added: “We’re potentially in a worse position than no-deal if the UK and the EU don’t find an agreement in the coming weeks and months, it’s not just no deal but it’s no deal plus a trade war.

“That will be hugely damaging not only to Northern Ireland but to the whole of the UK and the EU, which will be a double hit for us.”

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