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GB exports to Ireland slump as Brexit bites

Ken Murray, Dublin correspondent

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Despite constant assurances that trade between Britain and the island of Ireland would flow smoothly in the post-Brexit World, the reality is proving to be quite the opposite. GB exports to Ireland are declining, revenues are falling and it’s only March, as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.

They say it was the Greek philosopher Aesop who once said in 260BC: “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.”

Three months in to the British exit from the European Union, some doubters in the Conservative Party in London must be wondering at this early stage if political divorce from Brussels was such a good idea after all.

New figures from the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) reveal that during the month of January this year, British exports to the Republic of Ireland fell by £856 million or just under €1 billion compared to the same month in 2020.

To put that another way, British exports to southern Ireland fell by 65%. The figure is worse in the area of food and live animals where exports to the Republic fell by 75% or €62 million, a clear sign that the graphs are going downwards!

Whether COVID-19 and lack of consumer demand is to blame is still unclear but one thing is certain, British goods entering the Republic of Ireland are being met with unwelcome customs checks and import controls which are proving to be a major inconvenience for GB exporters and Irish importers.

Already, much anticipated alarm bells are going off with the Irish Road Hauliers Association saying that not only was this to be expected but additional costs are mounting which have the potential to drive some trucking companies out of business.

In a press statement, it said: “Through engagement with transport and logistics companies, we are aware of problems and backlogs in the supply chain, particularly in GB.

"We know that the introduction of new import and export regulatory requirements alongside new checks and controls on trade between the EU and UK, excluding Northern Ireland, adds additional burdens on companies and our Departments and Agencies are continuing to engage with companies and haulage and logistics companies to help them work through these new checks and controls." 

However the CSO said in its statement that some of the decline in British exports may have been due to pre-Christmas stockpiling and the fact that the hospitality sector in Ireland is closed due to the Covid pandemic thus reducing consumer demand for certain products.

With British suppliers to Ireland losing out financially-so far- there are growing signs, ironically, that north/south trade on the island of Ireland is picking up!

Northern Ireland, which is politically in the UK but technically speaking, is ‘remaining’ in the European Union purely for trade purposes only, has seen its traders record increased volumes of product purchased from the Republic instead of GB to circumvent long customs checks, inspection controls and delays at ports such as Belfast and Larne.

The CSO figures show that Republic of Ireland imports heading south from Northern Ireland were up by 10% from €161m to €177million.

On the other hand, exports going to Northern Ireland from the South were up 17% in January from €170m to €199m compared to the same period in 2020.

While this change in purchasing patterns may be good for some opportunistic traders in the Republic, any further decline in British exports to the island of Ireland may force Boris Johnson to do an embarrassing u-turn on a previously held position.

Speaking in the House of Commons London on January 13th last, he told Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party that his Government would have "no hesitation" in triggering Article 16 of the N.I. Protocol if 'disproportionate' problems arise.”

The activation of Article 16 would see a contentious hard physical border re-instated on the island of Ireland to allow free movement of goods between GB and Northern Ireland.

Such a move though could spark a re-emergence of hostile Irish republican terrorism and would, in all likelihood, see the US Government refuse to sign a trade deal with the UK.

Joe Biden, the most ‘Irish’ US President since JFK, has indicated more than once in recent months that any move to undermine the 1998 British-Irish Peace Agreement would severely strain relations between Washington and London.

With falling GB export revenues from Ireland and a threat to impose Article 16, Boris Johnson may yet regret what he wished for!

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UK sends two navy boats to Jersey after France threatens blockade

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The Mont Orgueil Castle is seen behind an island flag at Gorey Harbour in Jersey, in this February 26, 2008 file photo.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain is sending two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey after France suggested it could cut power supplies to the island if its fishermen are not granted full access to UK fishing waters under post-Brexit trading terms, write Richard Lough and Andrew Macaskill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his "unwavering support" for the island after he spoke with Jersey officials about the prospect of the French blockade.

Johnson "stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions," a spokesperson for Johnson said. "As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation."

Earlier, France's Seas Minister Annick Girardin said she was "disgusted" to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.

"In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we're ready to use them," Girardin told France's National Assembly on Tuesday (4 May).

"Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables ... Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we'll do it if we have to."

With a population of 108,000, Jersey imports 95% of its electricity from France, with diesel generators and gas turbines providing backup, according to energy news agency S&P Global Platts.

Jersey's government said France and the European Union had expressed their unhappiness with the conditions placed on the issuance of fishing licences.

Jersey’s external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said the island had issued permits in accordance with the post-Brexit trade terms, and that they stipulated any new licence must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey's waters before Brexit.

"We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime," Horst said in a statement.

The rocky island sits 14 miles (23 km) off the northern French coast and 85 miles (140 km) south of Britain's shores.

The French threat is the latest flare-up over fishing rights between the two countries.

Last month, French trawlermen angered by delays to licences to fish in British waters blocked lorries carrying UK-landed fish with burning barricades as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.

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Brexit barriers in focus as Northern Ireland's DUP kicks off leadership contest

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Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) Edwin Poots makes a statement to the media outside Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

Northern' Ireland's biggest party was set for its first ever leadership election after its Westminster chief Jeffrey Donaldson threw his hat into the ring, promising to focus on the divisive issue of post-Brexit trade barriers.

Donaldson will stand against Edwin Poots to lead the Democratic Unionist Party at a time of heightened instability in the British province and unionist anger over the installation of a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Both Donaldson and Poots, Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, stopped short of making detailed campaign promises. But Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe will be watching for any hardening of stances on Brexit or social issues including abortion that could alter the political balance ahead of elections next year.

The DUP currently leads Northern Ireland in a power-sharing government with its Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein.

Donaldson or Poots will take over the leadership from Arlene Foster who announced last week she was stepping down as Northern Ireland's First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from party members unhappy at her leadership. Read more

Her departure has added to instability in the region, where angry young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over the barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.

"I will develop and swiftly implement an agreed programme of meaningful reform and clear policy direction on key challenges like the protocol," Donaldson said in a video announcement, referring to the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Like Foster, Donaldson, 58, is a former member of the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. He was part of the negotiating team that stuck a deal to prop up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017.

Once the DUP's support was no longer needed, May's successor Boris Johnson broke the party's "blood red line" and agreed to erect the trade barriers.

Poots, 55, is one of a number of DUP ministers who have protested against the Brexit arrangements by refusing to attend meetings with Irish counterparts established under the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Poots, a young earth creationist who rejects the theory of evolution, announced he was standing last week.

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Statement by Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič following the conclusion of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement

EU Reporter Correspondent

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European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič warmly welcomes the ratification of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which will now be fully applicable as of 1 May 2021. This comes after an overwhelming vote of consent by the European Parliament on 27 April and subsequent Council decision today, thereby concluding the ratification process. The EU and the UK will exchange letters to that effect.  

"The ratification of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement is good news for European citizens and businesses. It provides a solid foundation for our longstanding friendship, co-operation and partnership with the United Kingdom on the basis of shared interests and values.

"In practice, the Agreement helps avoid significant disruptions, while protecting European interests and upholding the integrity of our Single Market. It also ensures a robust level playing field, by maintaining high levels of protection in areas, such as climate and environmental protection, social and labour rights, or state aid. Moreover, the Agreement includes effective enforcement, a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for both parties to take remedial measures.

"Democratic scrutiny will continue to be key in the implementation phase of the Agreement in order to ensure faithful compliance. Unity among EU institutions and member states will remain a cornerstone during this new chapter in our EU-UK relations." 

Vice President Šefčovič reiterates that the European Commission looks forward to a strong, constructive and collaborative partnership with the United Kingdom, based on mutual trust and respect. We have far more in common than that which divides us. He will reach out this week to Lord David Frost, co-chair of the EU-UK Partnership Council, to prepare the launch of its work, including the work of Specialized Committees.  

Finally, the Commission will continue to work tirelessly for joint solutions so that the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland in particular, is also fully implemented and works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.

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