Third of North’s exporting small firms predict post-Brexit slump

NI lobby group stresses importance of non-EU workers and cross-border trade

Belfast port

Belfast port

 

A third of small firms in Northern Ireland that export expect to see a slump in business as a result of the UK leaving the EU, new research suggests.

The Federation of Small Business (FSB) also reports that one in three small firms in the UK is currently involved in overseas trade and the vast majority of these trade are within the EU which, according to local business leaders, highlights why the North needs to have a “strong voice” in any future negotiations.

Wilfred Mitchell, FSB NI policy chair, said: “Small business exports have been on the rise since the referendum, with the lower value of the pound making UK goods and services more competitive. As the UK leaves the single market any new agreement must maintain the current ease of trade with the EU and not lead to additional administrative or financial burdens.”

The FSB research, carried out over a six-month period since the June referendum, shows that 92 per cent of exporting small firms and 85 per cent of importing small firms trade within the single market.

The business body also found that one in five of small firms currently employ non-UK EU citizens, with the majority of these employees already residing in the UK with the right to work in the UK.

Almost half (47 per cent) of small businesses that employ EU citizens predominantly rely on mid-skilled workers – such as mechanics or care workers – whereas a fifth (21 per cent) of firms rely on lower-skilled labour such as farm workers, which FSB NI believes is integral to the North’s agricultural sector.

Mr Mitchell said the feedback from its members underlines why local politicians need to safeguard Northern Ireland’s interests and make sure that local firms have access to the “right talent at the right time”.

“FSB research clearly shows the importance small businesses place on being able to access the skills and labour they require. The design of any future immigration system must ensure demand can be met.

“This is one of the reasons that we welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to prioritise the maintenance of a Common Travel Area (CTA) with the Republic of Ireland in the forthcoming negotiations and her recognition of the special relationship that exists between the Republic and the UK,” he added.