From the moment that the UK voted to leave the European Union, politicians have been struggling to give form to Brexit.
The size of the ‘divorce’ payment due to be deposited by the Government in London into Brussels’ coffers and the respective rights of citizens member states have assumed prominence at various times during the negotiations.
However, the nature of trade between a post-withdrawal Britain and its former continental partners has arguably been the most contentious element of the entire debate.
Over the course of the last two years, we have been in detailed discussions with clients who are understandably anxious about the potential for Brexit to impact on their operations.
That’s especially true for the many major UK brands who regard business with consumers in the Republic of Ireland as having growing importance.
They are giving a cautious welcome to the news that an agreement has been reached which will provide a framework for how the UK will detach itself from the EU.
I don’t think that’s not necessarily because of any political bias. As I write, MPs in Westminster are still trying to dig into the details of the substantial draft treaty which has been drawn up.
Importantly, our clients seem to regard a negotiated Brexit as preferable to the ‘no-deal’ alternative which would have significant implications for any UK firms trading with Europe, as made clear by a ‘partnership pack’ published by HMRC at the end of October.
Despite stressing that the Government was “committed to prioritising stability for businesses” and would do its best to minimise “delays and additional burdens”, it acknowledged that firms would need to revise to contracts and complete export declarations as well as registering for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number.
In the light of such warnings from official UK sources naturally wanting to maintain as neutral a position as was possible under the circumstances, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ireland, in particular, feared that £56.5bn (€65bn) worth of trade each year might at least be stifled by the prospect of hard borders and tariffs.
The very latest indications are that the UK will continue to have trading access to the EU in the form of a customs union with special arrangements being put in place for Northern Ireland to avoid any return to a hard border.
So far, no specifics have emerged about what that means in terms of tariffs for the shipment of goods between Northern Ireland or the mainland UK and Dublin.
The ‘how’ and ‘how much’ of deliveries once Brexit is completed have been a regular and expected part of discussions with clients since 2016.
As the leading independent specialist in UK-to-Ireland shipments, we have extensive experience in processing the sort of export declarations referred to by HMRC.
We are also in something of a unique position. CAE Delivers not only maintains facilities - depots, vehicles and staff - on the UK mainland but in Northern Ireland and the Republic too.
In recent years, the volume of materials which we handle for household names in the retail, pharmaceutical and media industries has increased substantially.
Whatever the outcome to Brexit, our intelligence strongly indicates that the appetite of Irish consumers for UK products is unlikely to suffer and we regard ourselves as being ideally placed to help businesses capitalise on that appeal long after UK formally goes its own way on March the 29th next year.
It is critical to point out, though, that the precise basis of that withdrawal is still far from certain, even though a provisional agreement is in place.
Even though Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has secured the backing of her Cabinet, there will have to be an emergency EU summit later this month to seal the deal. That, in turn, will need to be voted on by the parliament in Westminster, something which it’s thought might happen before Xmas.
A draft accord between Brussels and Britain is, for now, just that.