NI companies escalate no-deal Brexit contingency plans

Businesses dependent on cross-Border trade begin issuing protection notices to staff

Northern Ireland companies have started issuing protective notices to staff as they escalate their no-deal Brexit contingency plans against the backdrop of growing anxiety over the prospect of a hard Border, industry leaders have said.

Businesses dependent on cross-Border trade are chief among those who are putting worst-case Brexit scenario plans into operation, it has emerged.

One leading Northern Ireland food producer, who did not want to be identified, but who is a major supplier to supermarket groups in the South, has already placed 25 per cent of its employees on protective notice.

It took the decision after one of its customers in the Republic told the company that in the event of a no-deal Brexit it would not pay 40 per cent EU trade tariffs on products coming from Northern Ireland.


Stephen Kelly, chief executive of industry group Manufacturing NI, said a growing number of firms in the North are placing workers on protective notice because of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

“We have been telling businesses to hold tight – not to activate all of their Brexit contingency plans and to try and be calm because we still believe no deal is not an option, but companies are definitely worried.

“We know they are stockpiling supplies and we are responding to lots of calls from our members worried about what they should do next. Our advice at this time is to hold fire,” Mr Kelly said.

But while Manufacturing NI remains optimistic that a deal will be done to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU, evidence on the ground suggests that some firms located both North and South do not share the organisation’s confidence.

Several businesses in the North have confirmed they have received instructions from some of their customers in the South to deliver orders ahead of March 29th to prevent any issues that may arise on Brexit day one.

Own transport

So concerned are some companies in the South that they have also dispatched their own transport to collect products ahead of March 29th.

Meanwhile, firms in the North are also requesting additional stock from their suppliers in the South t to prevent any interruption to their supplies in the immediate aftermath of March 29th.

Latest research published this week by InterTradeIreland, the cross-border trade and business development body, shows the total value of cross-border trade on the island of Ireland has soared to an “all-time high” of more than £6.11 billion or nearly €7 billion.

But the lack of progress on a UK/EU deal and the prospect of a hard border is, according to Mr Kelly, fuelling the concerns of businesses in the North who rely on export sales to the EU marketplace to survive.

Not least among these is Northern Ireland's aerospace sector, which employs 10,000 people. It will have taken particular heed of the latest, ominous warning from Airbus, one of Europe's largest aerospace giants.

The chief executive of Airbus, Tom Enders, has said that if there is a no-deal Brexit the company “will have to make potentially very harmful decisions for the United Kingdom”.

Supplies wings

Airbus is one of Bombardier's biggest customers – Bombardier Belfast supplies the wings for the A220 aircraft and also provides nacelle and thrust reversers for other aircraft.

Michael Ryan, chief operating officer at Bombardier Aerostructures & Engineering Services (BAES) and head of the Northern Ireland operations, has made no secret of the fact that he would also like to win more business for Belfast from Airbus.

This continued uncertainty, and the real prospect of leaving the EU with no deal, does not help with business planning

But union leaders have warned that a no-deal Brexit could leave aerospace workers, such as Bombardier’s employees in Belfast, vulnerable.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "The consequences of a no-deal Brexit on the future of the UK's world-leading aerospace sector, its integrated supply chain and wider manufacturing would be catastrophic."

Bombardier said its position is clear – it wants to see an “orderly Brexit”.

“This continued uncertainty, and the real prospect of leaving the EU with no deal, does not help with business planning. It is imperative that Parliament finds a resolution that works for UK business,” a spokeswoman said.

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business