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Northern Ireland: What do business and farming make of Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan?

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The border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland near Newry, October 1, 2019.
The border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland near Newry, October 1, 2019. -
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Boris Johnson has described his proposals to replace the Irish backstop as “fair” and “reasonable”. The British prime minister insists the UK’s plan for a revised Brexit divorce deal respects the Good Friday Agreement and avoids a hard border.

Under the plan, Northern Ireland would leave the EU’s customs union along with the rest of the UK. If there is no free trade agreement, checks would be needed between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The UK proposes automated solutions with checks away from the border.

Northern Ireland would stay subject to EU single market rules for agriculture, food and manufactured goods – creating a regulatory border with Great Britain. The arrangement would be subject to consent every four years from the Belfast authorities at Stormont.

Here are various reactions to the Johnson plan among bodies representing farming and business in Northern Ireland. Many welcomed it as a starting point for negotiations, but are strongly critical of the UK proposals.

Read more: Boris Johnson sets out UK plan reworking Irish backstop

Ivor Ferguson – President, Ulster Farmers’ Union (news release):

  • On the single market: “The proposed all-island regulatory zone would help facilitate these crucial (free and frictionless) trading relationships.”
  • On consent: “However, more clarity is needed about how the four year Stormont consent process would work as this rule has the potential to put the industry in a prolonged cycle of uncertainty.”
  • On customs: “From 2021, WTO rules and tariffs will apply for all exports from NI unless the UK has a Free Trade Agreement in place. This does not give the certainty around tariff-free access that we require. It is essential for the livelihood of family-run farming businesses that this is confirmed.”

Stephen Kelly – Chief Executive, Manufacturing Northern Ireland (BBC Radio):

“It’s worse than no-deal. If we ended up with this model, what it effectively means is we have two borders in an effort to try to solve one border. It means that Northern Ireland no longer has unfettered access, not just to the EU’s market, but actually to the rest of the UK market as well… It adds such a level of cost and complexity that it will make (our) businesses unviable.”

Tina McKenzie – Policy Chair, FSB Northern Ireland (National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses) (news release):

“The proposals which have been published by the UK Government fall short of delivering the tariff-free, frictionless trade which our members currently enjoy and want to see maintained… While there are mentions of exemptions for small businesses we need to see further detail on how these would practically operate.”

MPANI – Mineral Products Association Northern Ireland (on Twitter):

“It is clear the proposals do not deliver and maintain a seamless and frictionless trade border so that NI Business can trade N-S and E-W as they do now.”

Read more: Why is Boris Johnson's latest Brexit plan a headache for the EU? | Euronews Answers

Glyn Roberts – Chief Executive, Retail NI (news release):

“These proposals are a complete non-starter… The Prime Minister’s plan would result in North to South tariffs which would cause huge negative impacts upon our farmers and the agri-food sector as a whole. Furthermore, it would also mean two borders requiring renewal after four years, surveillance in border communities without their consent and checks North-South and West-East.”

Aodhán Connolly – Director, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (LinkedIn post):

“This will lead to complexity, delays, tariffs, VAT and cost rises that will make NI goods less competitive and squeeze our household budgets. The measures are predicated on intrusive surveillance which will put a burden on business and be disruptive for border communities. In short these proposals are unworkable and unpalatable.”

Brian Irwin – Chair, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) and executive chairman, Irwin’s Bakery (on Channel 4):

“Tariffs in our particular category vary between 15 and 25 percent… If we end up outside of the customs union without some form of trade agreement, which is yet to be negotiated, that is the default position (under the Johnson plan). Tariffs that could be created if we were left with a WTO-type tariff arrangement, would present a wall of cost that many Northern Ireland food companies could not trade through.”

Seamus Leheny – Policy Manager, Freight Transport Association in Northern Ireland (BBC TV via Twitter):

“People forget what we make in Northern Ireland… 70% of the cross-border freight here in Northern Ireland with the Republic, it’s ingredients and components…. Great Britain is a huge market for Northern Ireland, but we simply won’t be able to make those products any more if there’s tariffs or regulatory barriers with trade across the border.”

Read more: 'Unconvinced': How has Europe reacted to the UK's Brexit proposals?

The Irish government and European Union leaders contest the Johnson plan, fearing it would bring a hard border in Ireland and threaten the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The British government says the UK will leave the EU on October 31, although parliament has legislated for a delay should no deal be agreed.

Read more:

Ireland unveils €1.2 billion fund to counter impact of no-deal Brexit

UK adviser Shanker Singham: 'EU must compromise' on Irish customs

Brexit Guide: Where are we now?