United Kingdom (GPA) – Following the announcement last month by UK Prime Minister Theresa May that Britain would not be able to keep their preferential access to European Union markets, thousands of businesses have begun registering in Ireland to remain in the EU.
Although the deadline for completing the process of leaving the EU is two years away, over 100,000 UK based companies have begun registering in the Republic of Ireland. The moves were made to guard against what Northern Ireland Member of Parliament Stephen Kelly said were “possible worst case scenarios, if they develop.”
Kelly told a meeting of Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the House of Commons that the leaders in Northern Ireland “are aware of quite a number of companies that are … having to take decisions and having to take decisions now.” Kelly said that even though he realizes the end of the Brexit process is two years away, he understands that “manufacturers have very large capital investments,” even though there’s the possibility of “having a new arrangement and deal by the end of that period.”
It’s this climate that made Kelly acknowledge that “companies will be making decision within the next 12 months, not within the next 24 months, in order to give themselves time to put in place whatever new arrangements they have to satisfy their own internal business needs.” While a majority of the discussion was focused on manufacturers in Northern Ireland, these kinds of moves are being made all throughout the U.K. by a variety of businesses.
Major Firms Make Possible Plans to Leave UK
One manufacturer making a contingency plan, should they have to leave, is one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, the pharmaceutical firm Almac Group. Almac employs around 2,600 people in the Northern Ireland in the Craigavon area of Northern Ireland but, as executive director Colin Hayburn told the MPs, they’ve already set the groundwork for a possible relocation of facilities to the Irish city of Dundalk.
Hayburn said that the decision was made because investors and clients both “wanted to know what was our EU solution going forward. We had to address that,” and that “We needed an EU presence immediately to satisfy those customers.”
The company expects that their new operations in Dundalk will only employ 100 people within the next two years, and they’re not sure if manufacturing will move but other statements by Hayburn made that sound like it’s still a possibility.
It seemed Hayburn didn’t rule this out when he told the MPs “We have no desire that they [Almac products] would not be manufactured in Northern Ireland. It would not be ideal in any way, but if there isn’t clarity and there is nervousness there in relation to what the future is, we might be forced into having a greater manufacturing presence in the South because of our need for EU operations.”
Northern Ireland and Brexit
When the Brexit referendum was voted on in Northern Ireland last year, the vote to remain won by much better margins than the leave vote overall. In Northern Ireland, around 56% of voters opted to retain the U.K.’s status as an EU member.
Government leaders in the country hoped for different outcomes from the recent high court decision in London and the vote in parliament on whether or not to trigger article 50. Northern Ireland is likely to suffer the most if the result of this decision is what some call a ‘Hard Brexit,’ due to the fact that so much of their economy depends on cross border trade with their neighbor, the Republic of Ireland.
The final decision to leave was made by parliament anyway and has caused confusion throughout the U.K. England is scrambling to find new trading partners, leading to Theresa May buttering up possible future clients such as the authoritarian regime in Turkey. Ireland and Northern Ireland’s politicians have hoped for some kind of solution to the whole mess, even leading some to propose the idea of making a clause in Brexit to reunify the entire island.
Although London is doing everything they can to avoid the hard Brexit scenario, the loss of access to the EU marketplace continues to keep the smaller U.K. states on edge. With politicians proposing things as radical as leaving the U.K. – this idea has also been brought back up in Scotland, after a previous independence referendum failed – the hard Brexit may turn out to be inevitable for England.