“The UK’s choice is between a hard Brexit and no Brexit and it is only a no Brexit that can give us the border we have now.”
Phil Hogan EU Agricultural Commissioner
These comments from the commissioner to Irish TD’s and senators may state the obvious but they also give us an insight into the hardening attitudes in Brussels – there can be no half way house, the UK is either in or out!
In contrast the statements from the UK side reflect the wish to avoid a ‘hard border’ – the UK and Irish Governments will come to an arrangement, but the negotiations will be with the EU not the Irish.
In August the 1st Minister (Arlene Foster) and Deputy 1st Minister (Martin Mc Guinness) for NI wrote to the British PM highlighting five issues:
* The physical border
* Trading costs
* Energy market
* EU funding – particularly for agriculture
* Agri-food sector
The Prime Minister replied that she wants to retain the Common Travel Area – Irish and UK citizens can move freely between the two jurisdictions without passport controls.
But it is the mobility of labour that is the critical issue – thousands of people commute daily across the border to work and they are not only Irish and UK citizens, many are EU nationals. Employers must retain access to unskilled as well as skilled workers for both the private sector and public sector.
If I am an Irish citizen living in Monaghan will I need a work permit to work in Armagh?
The UK Prime Minister (Teresa May) has a very difficult task to reconcile the demands for immigration control, access to the single market and the hard line position reflected in the statements from Brussels.
The meetings in London last week – four months after the vote – suggest that the UK government are starting a consultation process with Wales, Scotland and NI. Scotland’s position has been well documented over the past four months but it was a surprise that Wales is also demanding access to the single market.
The irony of the vote is that the UK has reached full employment. If the economy is to continue to grow it needs migrant workers to take up jobs in agriculture, retail, hotels and the NHS.
We can only speculate that the UK will seek to control immigration through:
* Work permit schemes
* Sectoral employment schemes
* Points system for skilled worker
How will immigration be policed at the border?
Agri – food sector
It is not a surprise that the Agri-food sector is singled out for special mention by the NI Ministers, the UK accounts for over 50% of all Irish food exports and for many SME’s it is the only export market.
The Mushroom Industry is the most exposed sector – 90% of production is exported to the UK, which is the only realistic market for short shelf life product.
Exports to UK 90%
Value of exports €130 M
Jobs 3500 in the rural economy
Many of the deals were struck with UK retailers were when sterling was at 70p : €1 but has now dropped to 90p : €1 a loss in value of 20%. The Mushroom Industry faces a very uncertain future.