Brexit Proof Q&A: ‘Best guess is no longer good enough’

Joe Berney owner of Berney Saddlery, Co Wexford

Joe Berney owns Berney Saddlery in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford where he manufactures leather equestrian goods and has a retail shop stocking everything for horse and rider.

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

Disbelief. I was taken by surprise, I was completely caught off guard, I didn’t anticipate it. I was very surprised by the overwhelming majority in the north of England who voted out, given the industrial traditions up there. I thought they’d have an eye on the single European market for their products, but that obviously wasn’t the case.

How is your business likely to be affected?

Most of my product is sourced through UK suppliers so we would have to restructure our supply chain. Ninety per cent of our material would be sourced in Walsall in England.

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

Very little, other than a couple of short trips to Germany to have a look at trade fairs and rekindle old relationships with German suppliers. Not just for manufacturing goods but for retail too.

Are you examining new markets/suppliers? If so, how practical has that been?

Yes, and it’s been surprisingly efficient. We are now beginning to use German, French and Finnish retail-based wholesalers. The cost of shipping in and out of the UK over the last two to three years has gone up and up. All of a sudden it is viable to ship heavy product, bulk volume product, in from continental Europe.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?

Right now I don’t see any but hopefully yes. I have become lazy and complacent and I’ve been very happy with things just the way they have been for the last 25 years. Maybe this is a wake-up call to look above the horizon.

When do you expect to be Brexit ready?

I live on a daily basis with the threat of flood and I’m prepared always. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. We are a very small company. How much preparation do we need?

What’s your best and worst case scenarios?

I anticipate a lot of international goodwill towards Ireland and the Irish economy. I don’t think it is all bad. If the English don’t want to be part of the European Union, let them out.

Are you stockpiling goods and raw materials?

Yes, I am since sterling collapsed in price, since the banking started collapsing. It’s not strategic, it’s purely financial.

How might the Irish or British governments or the EU help ease the pain of Brexit for your sector?

I think the biggest single issue for me is fear of the unknown, I hear a lot of conjecture, I hear a lot of speculation, a lot of best guesses. We now need to know the facts, what will happen, will there be international trading tariffs? Will there be free travel between the two countries? We need to know the facts that will present themselves, best guess is no longer good enough.

How do you think that the Irish/British or both governments have handled the Brexit negotiations?

The civil servants have done the best they can. I’m sure that, behind the scenes, there are civil servants whose names we’ll never know working around the clock to make sure Brexit is a seamless transition. However, the politics of it are something else altogether. The fact that this small minority party in Northern Ireland seem to have so much influence over the Conservative government in the UK, it just fills me full of awe. Why can’t they put the greater good first?

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

I don’t know. I became very complacent and never picked up a European language. I think I have to become more and more European. If someone is going to come into our industry in 10 years time, they will need to be bilingual.

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