I can assure the deputy that both I and the Ministers of State at my Department have taken every opportunity to engage with UK and EU counterparts to outline the unique challenges facing Ireland from Brexit and to advance Ireland’s priorities in this context.
As somebody who has lived all my life in a Border county, I am acutely aware of the concerns in communities all across the Border region about the final Brexit outcome and the potential impacts on their lives, businesses, farms and families. The integrated nature of the trading relationship that runs north and south of this island and the strong economic links are very clear to all.
As the deputy will be aware, negotiations on both the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the framework for the EU-UK future relationship, were conducted on behalf of the EU27 by the EU's Chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the Commission's Article 50 Taskforce.
Since taking up office as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation I have met with various UK Ministers, particularly Ministers at the Department of International Trade, the Department responsible for developing the UK’s post-Brexit trade and investment relationship with the EU, to discuss issues including Ireland-UK trade and the impact of Brexit on this relationship.
- In January 2018 I met with Hilary Benn MP and a group of UK Parliamentarians to discuss issues around the UK exiting the EU.
- In February 2018 I met with Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, Mr Greg Hands MP.
- In April 2018 during an EI trade mission to Manchester I met with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Mr Andy Burnham at which Brexit, among other issues, was discussed.
- In June 2018, on a visit to London I met with the Secretary of State for International Trade, Mr Liam Fox MP and with the Minister of State in the Department for International Trade, Mr Greg Hands MP. This meeting agenda focused on Ireland-UK trade, EU trade policy and global trade challenges.
- During my visit to London in June 2018 I also met with the Minister of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Ms Claire Perry MP to discuss industrial strategy and innovation.
- In September 2018 in the course of a trade mission to Scotland, I met with the Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, Mr Ivan McKee.
- At various EU Council meetings this year I have met with various EU counterparts, including UK colleagues, both formally and informally. This included meetings with the UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Mr Greg Hands MP and, on two occasions with the U.K. Minister of State for Trade Policy, Mr George Hollingbery MP. Maintaining the strength of the Irish-UK trading relationship was a key focus of these discussions.
My Ministerial colleagues, Ministers Pat Breen and John Halligan have also, at various times, met with their UK counterparts.
Minister Breen met with the following UK counterparts:
- Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Lord Henley in March 2018 and in May 2018;
- Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown MSP in March 2018;
- Minister for State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Margot James in April 2018;
- Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, Ivan McKee in August 2018;
- Minister of State for Trade Policy, Mr George Hollingbery in November 2018.
Minister Halligan met in February 2018, May 2018, and February 2019 with the UK Minister for Higher Education and for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah. Minister Halligan also met Minister Joseph Johnson, then Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation in Tallinn, Estonia on 24th July 2017 on the margins of the Informal meeting of Research Ministers. The purpose of the meeting was to enhance the existing bilateral research and innovation cooperation and identify new areas of opportunity for UK and Irish researchers and innovators to collaborate further.
I can further assure the deputy that my Department and its agencies are providing extensive supports, loan schemes and advice to assist businesses to prepare for Brexit. I am particularly committed to ensuring that Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) and InterTrade Ireland (ITI) continue to work with companies in the Border region to drive innovation, competitiveness, internationalisation and Brexit preparedness.
As part of Budget 2019, I allocated an additional €1million to InterTradeIreland (ITI). The ITI Brexit Advisory Service provides a focal point for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading post-Brexit. ITI also offers a Brexit Start to Plan voucher scheme, worth up to €2,250, for professional advice on preparing for Brexit and I am pleased with the very positive take-up to date of the ITI voucher scheme.
I also allocated additional capital funding of €5 million in Budget 2019 to the LEOs to step-up their Brexit preparedness work. Some 402 LEO clients have benefitted from one-to-one Brexit mentoring. In addition, the six LEOs in the Border region are working together with their Northern Ireland counterparts under the EU Co-Innovate Programme, to help firms to innovate, differentiate and compete. Recently I launched the LEO customs training programme aimed at familiarising companies with customs procedures.
Enterprise Ireland has a wide range of supports available and are actively engaged with companies in helping them to prepare. Enterprise Ireland Annual Results for 2018 showed that every region in Ireland recorded increases in employment, including a 9% increase in the North West and a 3% increase in the North East. Over 23,700 of the 215,207 employed in supported companies are in the Border region.