Irish business leaders have warned the UK is heading towards a an “economically calamitous Brexit” that would “massively disrupt” UK-EU trade – and hit Irish companies hard.
They accuse the British government of putting short-term political concerns ahead of jobs and the needs of business.
They say there must be a “clear framework to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland”.
And they warn any deal UK-EU deal must recognise “the unique economic and political challenges” that Brexit poses to Ireland, and introduce measures to deal with these issues.
At a meeting of senior EU policy-makers in Brussels, Danny McCoy, CEO of Irish business group Ibec, called for up to €1bn in aid to help Irish companies deal with the impact of a “fraught exit”.
Launching Ibec’s report, ‘Brexit: challenges with solutions’, he said a close relationship between the UK and EU was “in everyone’s interest”.
He emphasised that Ireland’s “long-standing and deep economic, political, historical, social and cultural links to the UK” made it “uniquely exposed to the disruption of Brexit”.
He said any UK-EU deal should facilitate the closest possible ties in future and “should not seek to punish the UK” for leaving.
'Positive new relationship'
“We need to forge a new, positive relationship with the UK, and business will support these efforts," said Mr McCoy.
Mr McCoy also called on the EU to make a fresh case to the UK for staying in Europe on revised terms to “ensure the possibility of the UK revisiting the Brexit decision remains attractive and feasible”.
He added: “While such a scenario seems remote right now, that could change over time.”
Mr McCoy highlighted for key priorities for Irish businesses.
Customs Union: Ipec believes it’s vital the UK stays in the customs union. “A UK departure from the EU’s customs union will seriously disrupt trade between Ireland and the UK, particularly with Northern Ireland, and deeply damage wider EU-UK trading relations. It makes no economic or business sense.”
Ireland’s unique position: Any new deal must recognise the unique economic and political challenges that Brexit presents to Ireland, and put in place specific measures to address these. “This will need to include provisions on travel and labour market rights, while also addressing Ireland’s unique trade exposure and the challenges presented by a potential customs border on the island of Ireland.”
Future UK-EU relations: Any future EU-UK deal must reflect existing close economic ties and facilitate the closest possible cooperation in the future.
Transitional aid: EU aid will be needed by European companies to help them through the adjustment period. In the case of a “fraught” exit, up to €1bn over three years may be needed “to help Irish companies innovate, diversify into new markets, train staff and invest for the future”.
'EU must reform'
Ibec also calls for reform of the EU, saying its priorities and institutions “must ensure we stay flexible and competitive”.
The report says the EU must be more efficient and pull back from areas where national governments “are best placed to act”.
“In areas such as labour market and social legislation, national governments are best placed to tailor policy to domestic needs and political preferences. We need to avoid ill-conceived EU legislation that undermines job creation,” it says.
Ibec also calls for a more competitive Europe, and warns Brussels not to undermine the ability of member states to compete and succeed post-Brexit.
“Irish business will need to retain flexibility and sovereignty on taxation and other policy areas if it is to respond quickly and effectively to changing external events,” the report adds.
UK-Irish trade 'at risk'
Looking at UK-Irish trade in more depth, the Ibec report warns any change in the EU-UK trading relationship would hit Ireland more than any other EU country. The UK accounts for 14% of Irish goods exports, the highest share of any European country.
Ireland’s exposure to the UK is even higher for imports, with 32% of goods imports come from the UK – more than three times the share of the next highest country. If tariffs were placed on these imports, it would put upward pressure on prices.
Service exports also play a central role in the Irish economy, with the UK accounting for almost 20% – the third highest share in the EU after Spain and Malta. The UK is also the most important market for transport services, accounting for 60% of total exports, while travel and financial services exports represents roughly 30% of service exports.