Northern Ireland manufacturers say Brexit protocol is least of concern – survey | North Ireland

Manufacturers in Northern Ireland ranked post-Brexit trade deals in Northern Ireland as the least of the challenges facing their businesses, according to a quarterly industry survey, with 28% saying trade with the EU has increased over the past year.

The main concern was the labor shortage caused by the pandemic, but also the end of the freedom of movement which prevents EU citizens living in the border counties of the Republic of Ireland from traveling to Ireland from the North to work.

“Protocol was the least of their worries,” said Stephen Kelly, managing director of Manufacturing Northern Ireland (MNI), which led the survey. While we’re all caught up in the political narrative, in business the biggest concerns are staffing, productivity, and then the pandemic itself.

“It shows the narrative favored by the DUP [Democratic Unionist party] and others that Northern Ireland is going to hell in a handcart because of protocol is clearly not the case, quite the contrary,” Kelly added.

He said there was a “huge increase” in the number of companies accepting that the “protocol is here to stay”, but many want it to work better through red tape simplifications.

The survey finds that some companies are now benefiting from a Brexit-related dividend, with 28% saying they have experienced increased trade with the EU, including the Republic of Ireland. Two in five businesses also want Northern Ireland’s executive, the cabinet equivalent of government, to seize the unique opportunities the country has to trade with both the UK and the single market.

The inquiry comes as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who resumed Brexit talks after Lord Frost resigned before Christmas, holds a second day of talks with the European Commission over protocol and wider relations with the EU. Truss greets commission vice-chairman Maroš Šefčovič at Chevening House in Kent.

Sources say the UK will continue to push for further compromises on controls on goods traveling from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Businesses surveyed by MNI show that although not a priority concern, many still experience a ‘negative impact’ from customs checks and controls on goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland. However, the share of worries in the last quarter is just over 50%, compared to 77% in the first quarter.

Britain’s preparedness for the customs formalities that apply to goods ‘remains the big issue’ as one in five ‘say their UK suppliers are unwilling to ship’ to Northern Ireland.

“That has remained consistent throughout 2021,” Kelly said.