Still no Brexit clarity for Irish firms after talks

There is still no clarity about what Brexit will mean for businesses or farmers north and south of the border following a week of EU-UK exit talks.

Trade was off the menu at the talks in Brussels, and negotiators did not go into detail on possible solutions for the border in order to keep the discussion “political”.

Business group Ibec has repeatedly warned that Paschal Donohoe, in his first budget in October, must prepare to insulate businesses from the worst effects of Brexit. It says a large swathe of the country is exposed to the Brexit winds. A hard border on the island would further undermine employment in counties such as Cavan where up to a fifth of jobs are exposed to Brexit, it says.

The 13% drop in the value of sterling against the euro since the UK voted last June to quit the EU has weighed on small Irish exporters selling goods and services across the Irish Sea, according to economists.

In the UK, the boss of Unilever, the Dutch-British foods and household products giant, said he will ask British prime minister Theresa May to give businesses more time to adapt to Brexit.

Chief executive Paul Polman said: “We will be talking about the possibility of a longer transition period.” A lengthy transition for Britain’s exit from the EU was “becoming more realistic now”, he said.

Mr Polman, a Dutch national, said talks will also cover how the private sector can influence the process so that complex issues — such as border taxes, intellectual property, regulations or data protection — “can proceed as smoothly as possible without doing further damage than what we have to deal with already”.

He told reporters:

“You can imagine from where I’m sitting, as a European but having my heart in the UK as well, that I have some concrete suggestions of what can be done there.

“There is no doubt that the quicker we can get some of the initial issues out of the way — like financial arrangements, citizens’ rights, the issue of Ireland — the quicker we can focus on the trade side and the trade relations side,” he said.

Unilever, whose products range from Dove soap to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, currently has a dual structure, with headquarters, boards of directors and stock listings in both Britain and the Netherlands.

But complications have arisen over how to maintain the common travel area and Good Friday Agreement post-Brexit, with negotiators emerging from talks with more questions than answers.

British officials have been told by their EU counterparts that “more work needs to be done” to protect north-south cooperation in areas such as food safety, energy, transport or agriculture set up under the Good Friday Agreement.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the issue was “directly relevant to the crucial objective of avoiding a hard border”.

The UK has also been asked to do more “homework” on how the common travel area will function in practice, given potentially differing rules on immigration, criminality, data protection or social security.

UK Brexit Minister David Davis said he remained committed to “achieving flexible and imaginative solutions to address the unique circumstances around the border, and particularly on the north/south dimension of the agreement”.


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