Small businesses too ‘time poor’ to prepare for Brexit – industry group

Haulier group says State will not cope with no deal regardless of customs registrations

Ships in Dublin Port being loaded with goods for export. File photo. Photographer: Dara MacDonaill

Ships in Dublin Port being loaded with goods for export. File photo. Photographer: Dara MacDonaill

 

Small businesses have not taken the necessary steps to prepare for Brexit because they are “time poor” and believe that a deal will ultimately be done buying them more time, an industry group has said.

According to Revenue, just over half the 84,000 businesses that trade with the UK had applied for customs registration to be able to continue trading with a non-EU “third country” after Brexit.

The failure of many importers and exporters to apply for customs numbers raises the prospect of goods not moving should the UK fail to secure an extension and leave the EU without a deal at 11pm on Friday.

Irish businesses with Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) numbers, required for continued trade with the UK, stands at 45,475, of which 5,430 have been issued this year, including almost 300 since Friday.

The slow take-up of EORI numbers has led to concern across the public and private sectors and finger-pointing.

Simon McKeever, chief executive of the Irish Exporters’ Association, said while large companies had made the necessary preparations, smaller businesses were “time poor” and preparing for Brexit was “not something that has been on their radar”.

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“When I ask them why their levels of preparation are so low, their attitude is that ‘we have been here before and it will all wash out in the end’. I don’t think there is a full realisation of what is required. It is not from the want of trying to spell it out to them,” he said.

Mr McKeever warned that they could be in for a shock if there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of the week and they are unable to move goods.

“If Brexit happens on Friday night, they could be in for a big shock on Saturday morning. And it is getting critical. There is a very, very severe risk of this happening,” he said.

Growing anxiety

There is growing anxiety among Government officials and State agencies at the failure of businesses, particularly small companies, to prepare, despite the Government stepping up its “Getting Ireland Brexit Ready” public awareness campaign over recent weeks, urging businesses to make preparations.

Verona Murphy, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, defended her industry’s preparations, saying the hauliers she knew had applied for the registrations required for post-Brexit operations.

She believed State agencies were trying to deflect blame by saying that businesses had not made sufficient preparations. She predicted the State would struggle to process the millions of additional customs declaration forms if it is going to be a hard Brexit, regardless of the number of businesses registered for customs.

“They won’t be able to process the declarations in the time they say. What we are used to – rolling into a ferry terminal 15 or 20 minutes before the ship goes out – that is not going to happen in future,” she said.

“They are unable to answer basic questions for us. If Brexit happens on Friday, it is just going to be utter chaos. The least of their worries will be who has signed up for an EORI.”

Carol Lynch, a partner at consultants BDO, said that the low level of registrations was a concern because it meant businesses had not carried out the next necessary steps – looking at their tariff classifications and duty rates – required to complete customs declarations to move goods.

“If you haven’t done the EORI application, you haven’t looked at your customs planning,” she said.

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