UK and Ireland business leaders call for ‘tariff-free trade’

The UK and Ireland’s top business organisations have called for tariff-free trade and “comprehensive” transitional arrangements after a meeting to discuss Brexit.

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn met with Ibec CEO Danny McCoy on Thursday along with senior officials to discuss how the two major trading partners will continue do business after the UK leaves the European Union.

After the meeting, Danny McCoy, CEO of Ibec said any deal between the EU and UK had to recognise the “unique economic and political challenge for Ireland”, and include a specific measures to address them.

“An early focus on avoiding a hard border with Northern Ireland is vital, but the Irish approach must also be informed by the greater economic importance of the east-west Irish-British trading relationship,” he said, adding that the outcome of negotiations must not disadvantage Ireland.

He added: “Any future EU-UK deal must facilitate the closest possible, tariff-free economic, trading and business relationship between the EU and UK into the future and should be as broad, comprehensive and as ambitious as possible, covering both goods and services.”

The meeting comes a month after Mr McCoy told Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer magazine that Brexit was “by far the biggest challenge for Ireland since the formation of the state”.

During the frank interview, Mr McCoy also accused the British government of making “banal Brexit statements” such as “Brexit means Brexit”, and stated that the Brexit minister David Davis’s position that “no deal is better than a bad deal” was “a nonsense”.

The Ibec chief is scheduled to speak further about Brexit and the Irish and Northern Irish economy during the Ireland’s Convenience Retailer Summit on 6 September in Dublin.

Meanwhile, the Joint Business Council (JBC) meeting came in the same week official Brexit negotiations began, with the David Davis meeting European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier holding on Monday.

Aside from a timetable on future talks, little was decided at Monday’s parler, but Thursday’s JBC was a different story, with both the CBI and Ibec agreeing the need for an open frictionless border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and between Great Britain and the island of Ireland.

It was also agreed that any EU-UK trade deal must include comprehensive transitional arrangements, allowing business time to adapt to new trading relationships.

Both bodies also called for “continuity with existing arrangements” until the point where a new relationship takes effect.

Also speaking after the meeting, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said:  “The CBI will play a vital role in taking the concerns of Northern Irish businesses affected by Brexit to all levels of government in London and Brussels. With Northern Irish exports to the Republic of Ireland valued at £2.4bn in 2016, it is vitally important we reach a sensible agreement on the border issue which allows firms on both sides of the border to flourish.

“Meeting with representatives of Ibec it is clear there is full agreement from both sides of the border on the challenges a mismanaged Brexit would pose to businesses both North and South. There is a real desire to work together to find solutions that will promote a frictionless cross border trading system that allows businesses to avoid potential tariff and non-tariff barriers – this will be crucial for supporting jobs and future prosperity.

“However, any potential solution requires political stability. We therefore once again call on all political parties in Northern Ireland to act in the best interests of the province by restoring power-sharing institutions by the end of June. It has never been more important to have a fully functional Executive championing Northern Ireland’s cause.”