State watchdog says North ‘not fully ready’ for no-deal Brexit

Managing director of meat processor Kepak Group says company has bought two businesses in the UK to maintain its supply chain

 Confederation of British Industry president John Allan speaking at  Titanic Belfast to  business leaders. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

Confederation of British Industry president John Allan speaking at Titanic Belfast to business leaders. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

 

Northern Ireland is “not fully ready” to deal with a no-deal Brexit, and its capacity to plan for such a scenario is “severely constrained”, a state watchdog has said.

Kieran Donnelly, the North’s comptroller and auditor general, said that Northern Ireland was not prepared for the fallout from a no-deal due to the absence of certainty around the UK government’s policy positions on the Border, trade, customs, migration and the repatriation of powers from Brussels.

The watchdog said in the 13-page report on how prepared Northern Ireland was for leaving the EU that the UK government hoped to achieve a deal that would mitigate against the risks from Brexit “as far as is possible”.

“However, time is running short,” it said.

Among the key risks listed in the report is that it may be difficult to retain the Common Travel Area covering the free movement of people between Ireland and the UK if both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are subject to different rules governing free movement.

Any changes to freedom of movement would impede the mobility of workers, with a potential impact on the agri-food and tourism industries, the report warns.

At a Brexit preparedness conference organised by the Irish Government in Dublin on Thursday, John Horgan, managing director of meat processor Kepak Group, said it had purchased two businesses in the UK to maintain the company’s supply chain to a market that accounts for 50 per cent of its Irish exports.

Fallout from Brexit

Mr Horgan said Kepak exported nine out of every 10 animals slaughtered by the company in Ireland, of which about four or five go the UK. He has appointed “a cross-disciplinary group” within his business to try to plan for the fallout from Brexit. “It is really a think tank because you can’t plan for what you don’t know is going to happen.”

Meanwhile in Belfast, John Allan, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said “growing economic integration” on the island of Ireland, North and South, “had worked for all parts”, but the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement in place would have a negative outcome for all.

Mr Allan, who is also the chairman of Tesco and Barratt Developments, one of the UK’s largest housebuilding companies, said he was very aware of the real concerns of business people in the North about what the future might look like post-Brexit.

Speaking in Belfast on Thursday at CBI Northern Ireland’s annual lunch in Titanic Belfast, Mr Allan said there was a serious risk of a no-deal Brexit, and appealed to political leaders who were “arguing over Northern Ireland”.

Compromise

“Why not learn from recent history what compromise can achieve? We’re 20 years on from the Good Friday agreement that put people, peace and prosperity first – we need that spirit now. Specifically, over 90 per cent of CBI Northern Ireland members believe the proposed backstop is a better outcome for the Northern Irish economy than ‘no deal’.”

Addressing the audience of 500 people who had gathered at the Titanic visitor experience on Thursday, Mr Allan warned that the North’s economy could be sailing into a Brexit storm where the chief casualties would be economic growth and jobs.