‘It’s time for a few of our older politicians to put a deal together’

Brexit Proof Q&A: JN Wine managing director James Nicholson

What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the European Union?

Surprised to some extent but not a complete shock. My feeling all along has been Europe has been a very expensive experience. When it was an economic forum it worked very well but it has become more political. I can see why it is a less attractive club than it was previously.

How is your business likely to be affected?

It depends on what kind of Brexit there is. If we go for the ludicrous proposal for no deal it will be difficult for everyone. We have to do paperwork and customs procedures given the fact we are dealing with alcohol. We ship containers of wine into our Dublin warehouse. I expect checks to be stepped up a bit. If we are stopping at a so-called border it is going to be a very difficult experience in terms of time and drivers and cost.


How much do you rely on exports or the supply of materials across the Border?

It is 50 per cent of our business. We ship everything into the warehouse in Belfast. We distribute, be it to Cork, Dublin, Crossgar. We ship regularly mixed containers of wine into the Republic. You are talking about two or three container movements per week, so it is considerable. Smaller consignments of five or six pallets, too. There is not a day we are not shipping something across the Irish Border.

When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?

We have been conscious of stocking at higher levels but it is difficult because we don’t know what the outcome is yet. We are small so quite nimble.

Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?

No. We keep going. We are travelling. I am just back from California and have new lines of supply. We are bringing wines from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, we are shipping from all over the world. We are practised in paying our extra CCT tax.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?

I don’t see an enormous number of opportunities. We think about about five million cases are coming into the Republic per year. One million are probably coming directly from Europe with people going to Calais to bring stuff back. Whether that system will continue into the UK is unlikely so it won’t be at the same level. There is possibly more opportunity of bringing more products into the Republic and further into the UK. Also, if trade deals are done outside the EU it might be more attractive. We may have to look at our bonded facilities. If there is a very hard Border, we may well bond our products and look further into bonded facilities in the Republic where there is more freedom of movement.

When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?

When is anyone Brexit-ready? I don’t see October 31st being the date. Really, I don’t see a no-deal, possibly a general election. If there is no deal and they go to WTO terms it will be complete bedlam for a period of 12 months. It will be absolutely disastrous from a business point of view.

What’s your best/worst-case scenario?

Best case is to have a deal that everyone can live with, and a free-trade agreement. I only wish they had been concentrating on that instead of megaphone diplomacy. Worst-case scenario is a no-deal.

Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?

Yes. Our stock levels are certainly increasing. They will increase seasonally in October anyway. We would do probably 35 per cent of our business in the last six weeks of the year, given Christmas.

How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit?

They could sit down like normal human beings, normal business people, and sort out a deal instead of the rhetoric we have to listen to every day. ‘Take back control’ was a very worked set of words and now they are using no-deal as a way to condition people. The only hope is the diplomats and people behind the scenes are discussing a proper deal. You have a couple of political novices in Ireland and the UK. It’s time for a few of our older politicians to put a deal together.

How do you think the Irish and British governments have handled the Brexit negotiations?

Appallingly. Instead of Britain and Ireland having a much more cordial relationship they seem to be at odds with each other. And it’s not helpful the DUP having a stranglehold at Westminster. There needs to be a government at Westminster with a working majority. Not having any government at Stormont for 2½ years is an appalling disgrace. They are taking salaries to run a country and not running it.

Looking out five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?

Life goes on. People are resilient. It will be a difficult next two years and then after that people may say, ‘What was that all about?’ Irish people are fantastic people. They are resilient and get on with it. Our politicians create the problems, the public has to pick up and go.

Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?

No, but I think they may well put the final agreement to the people.