Regrettably, the UK is leaving the EU on 31 October 2019 and this will mean change. Detailed work is ongoing to prepare for the UK’s exit, in parallel with work in Brussels. As a responsible Government, preparedness for different types of Brexit is well underway.
Given the stance of the UK Government, the risk of a no deal Brexit on 31 October is significant, and the Government is taking this very seriously. Since the start of this year, our preparations have been geared towards such an outcome, including with our EU partners, to seek to mitigate as much as possible its risks.
The consequences of a no deal Brexit will be profound, including macro-economic, trade and sectorial challenges. It will also have implications for trade on the island of Ireland, North South cooperation and will pose risks for the Good Friday Agreement and political stability. It could have lasting societal impacts for Northern Ireland.
While the Government’s extensive preparedness and contingency efforts will help mitigate the negative effects of Brexit, a no deal Brexit will be highly disruptive. In such a scenario, it will be impossible for the UK to maintain the current seamless arrangements with the EU across the full range of sectors and this will have consequences for Ireland.
The Government has already taken actions to get Ireland Brexit ready, with dedicated measures announced in Budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019. Budget 2019 also included an allocation of over €110m for Brexit measures across a number of Departments, including a €25m allocation for essential customs requirements.
The Brexit Contingency Action Plan Update – published in July - reflects the extensive whole-of-Government and EU level work which has already taken place, as well as the additional work that will happen between now and 31 October. This plan emphasises the need for stepped up preparedness measures, by exposed businesses in particular. Citizens and businesses cannot assume that because a no deal Brexit was averted in March and April that the same will happen in October – the need for prudent preparations is more pressing than ever. Key areas for continued work will include preparing for Budget 2020, additional infrastructure for ports and airports, and a new phase of the Government’s Brexit communications including an intensified engagement programme by Revenue, focussed on individual businesses and including targeted letters and follow-up phone calls.
Within my own Department, through our enterprise agencies, we have put in place a full range of supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses across the country are prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU. These measures aim to assist businesses in identifying the key risk areas and practical preparatory actions to be taken over the coming weeks and months. In a No Deal Brexit, our key focus will be to assist ‘vulnerable but viable’ firms.
Key supports include a range of assistance available through the Local Enterprise Offices including Technical Assistance for Micro-Enterprises; the Lean for Micro Programme; the Innovation and Investment Fund; and a Brexit Mentoring Programme. The LEOs also provide Customs Training Workshops that provide businesses with a better understanding of the potential impacts, formalities and procedures to be adopted when trading with a country which is outside the Single Market and Custom Unions.
InterTradeIreland helps companies to prepare for a UK exit from the EU through a range of supports and services suited to all businesses no matter what stage they are at with their Brexit plans. Key measures include Brexit Planning Vouchers, Implementation Vouchers and a range of Brexit advisory services.
Enterprise Ireland are key providers of support – through their SME Scorecard, the Be Prepared Grant, the Act on Programme and Market Discovery Fund, amongst other supports.
The Department, working with other key stakeholders has also put in place a range of Brexit specific measures to enhance access to finance through, for example, the Brexit Loan Scheme (which provides affordable working capital to firms impacted by Brexit); the Future Growth Loan Scheme which provides a longer-term facility to support capital investment; and the Rescue and Restructuring Scheme which is available to provide restructuring support to undertakings in severe financial difficulties as a result of Brexit.
In addition, to respond to the needs of enterprises trading with the UK, the recently launched Clear Customs initiative offers eligible customs agents, customs intermediaries and affected businesses a free training programme to build capacity in the customs sector. Additional support of €6,000 per trainee will be available to participating eligible companies to assist with the costs of recruiting and assigning new staff to undertake training and take up new customs roles.
The Department is leading negotiations with the European Commission DG Competition, together with DAFM and other colleagues, on relevant State Aid issues.
We continue to enhance the resources of the Department’s regulatory agencies, to ensure that they are sufficiently resources to fulfil their mandates, which are vital to the efficient functioning of the economy and which are essential to the maintenance of the Single Market.
Of course, there are specific actions that firms must take themselves. With just 8 weeks until 31 October, there are 9 steps that businesses, large and small, should do now:
Understand the new rules for UK importing and exporting
Review your supply chain and UK market strategy
Be aware of possible changes to transport and logistics
Review all your certification, regulation and licensing
Review your contracts and data management
Ensure you are maximising Government Brexit programmes and supports
Manage your cash flow, currency and make sure your banking is in order
Protect and inform your staff
Know more about the impact to your sector.
These steps are elaborated upon in the “Getting Your Business Brexit Ready: Practical Steps” booklet which I launched this week in conjunction with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD, and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee TD. The booklet provides a comprehensive overview for businesses on the core steps they should take to prepare for Brexit.
To further assist firms, my Department has developed a checklist of the key actions for businesses to consider to be Brexit prepared. This guidance acts as a one stop shop with the essential actions set out and includes links to the relevant Agencies who can provide further guidance in specific areas. The checklist is available on the Department’s website.
To enhance awareness of and access to all of these supports, the Department, its Agencies and indeed, the whole-of-Government are engaged in an extensive communications campaign. This includes a series of workshops targeted at those enterprises most adversely impacted by Brexit. These efforts will continue and intensify in the run up to 31 October.