Along the border, businessman John McCartin is worried about what could become of the UK’s plan to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland protocol.
We fear last week’s proposal to tear up a deal guaranteeing Britain’s orderly departure from the EU could lead to an all-out trade war, and said it didn’t bode well for Mannok, the former Quinn Group, the manufacturing company he helps run. on the Fermanagh-Cavan border.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has lobbied British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying the rules governing the post-Brexit deal have disrupted trade between the North and Britain by creating an internal sea border Ireland and now refuses to go. to the government until it is sorted.
However, Mr McCartin says the protocol works for businesses like his and praises it for giving cross-border businesses “the best of both worlds”.
“The UK is trying to solve a problem that does not exist for the people of Northern Ireland. Everything is fine in Northern Ireland. It is doing better than the rest of the UK. The association with Europe , with the Republic of Ireland and frictionless trade suits consumers and businesses.
Mr McCartin believes the UK government is “destabilizing business, destabilizing the market, destabilizing the economy and creating a lack of confidence”.
“They are choking business in Northern Ireland with this uncertainty and damaging Britain’s name around the world,” he said. “People now see that if you have a deal with the UK government you can’t be sure they’re going to deliver.
He described it as “a circus artificially created to distract from political issues with the Conservative Party”.
“I believe Northern Ireland had the best of both worlds – its association with the UK and its markets, unfettered access to half a billion of the wealthiest people to ever walk this earth…in a privileged position to be an economic greenhouse for the future in Britain and Europe.
Mr McCartin speaks of “uncertainty” and “not knowing” how his business might be affected by this decision or how the EU will react.
“If Mannok manufactures a product to standards in Britain and Europe, we will have to audit our product, we will have to ensure that it complies with separate regulatory codes. This essentially only doubles the amount of paperwork.
He said it was “watching the crystal ball from now on”, but accepts there will likely be an administrative burden “no matter what”, which will be passed on to the consumer.
“It’s unclear how bad it will be for border business, but there can be nothing good about it. The uncertainty has been there since the Brexit vote in 2016 and now it continues. It’s madness first class.
Dr Conor Patterson, chief executive of the Newry and Morne Co-operative Enterprise Agency, is four miles from the border. He too worries about the unknown.
“It’s not settling down six years after Brexit and there’s no sign of it settling down in the future,” he said. “We recognize that the Northern Ireland Protocol was the first step in enabling a commercial and operational agreement which would then address the services sector, how data would be processed and citizenship issues, which play out in the services sector. companies regarding the employment of EU-born citizens. .
“But if we can’t get out of protocol first base, where is everything else to reset the relationship between the UK and the EU?”
He wonders what the reaction of the EU will be.
“Where does that put us? Can we trade safely in the EU? Having reassured buyers of products made here that these goods can be supplied in the future, what happens now? It’s no surprise that growers here are worried because their buyers in the EU are worried about the stability of the whole thing. This requires trust and reliable data.
Dr Patterson cited pharmaceutical companies close to the border who have benefited from the protocol and had a ‘competitive advantage because of the ability to test their products to meet EU standards in Northern Ireland’.
“They can do it using pre-existing infrastructure. It was feared that otherwise the putative cost of having to independently check each separate hardware pallet would require them to move to places like Dundalk, but that has not been the case,” he said.
“Before the protocol was agreed, they were expressing concerns that their EU partners in Germany, France and Spain would call on others to import supplies.
“They went to great lengths to reassure the networks within the EU that stayed. They feel like they are in a sedentary system and now they feel like that may not be guaranteed.
Another industry in the greater Newry area is food processing, with many ready-to-eat food companies having secured contracts with UK-based retailers “to supply sandwiches across the island”.
“But it depends on the supply chains and the arrangements that were agreed with the protocol, assuming that was the baseline.”
As chairman of the Newry Chamber of Commerce, Dr Patterson said there was ‘fatigue’ within businesses, ‘having lost workers during Covid, the inflationary costs of energy supply and supply chain issues”.
But, as before, he thinks the region halfway between Belfast and Dublin can overcome the problems.
“Unemployment was 30% in the 1970s here, it was 26.5% in 1988 and now it has one of the lowest levels of unemployment on these islands at just under 2%,” a- he declared.
“It’s transformation, it’s unfettered movement north and south, which is why we warned those who were proposing this not to go that route.”