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EU and Ireland launch working group to address Brexit challenges

The European Commission and the Irish government have agreed to set up a working group to support Irish businesses facing challenges caused by the UK's withdrawal from the union. 14 Nov 2017

Irish business, enterprise and innovation minister Frances Fitzgerald, who is also Ireland's deputy first minister or Tánaiste, and the European commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager agreed to set up the working group after a meeting in Brussels last week.

Speaking after the meeting, Fitzgerald said the working group would enable the Irish government to work with European Commission officials to ensure future support for Irish business. It is due to meet for the first time in the next fortnight.

“The Commission acknowledges the unique exposure of Irish-based businesses to Brexit. We agreed that it is essential that Ireland is able to respond in a timely fashion to the likely challenges ahead. The working group will help ensure that we are in a position to respond to companies’ needs in an agile way, should the need arise,” said Fitzgerald.

She said many Irish companies employed people in the area around the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and sectors such as tourism, engineering, dairy, agri-food could all be affected.

Much of the analysis and discussion around the relationship between the UK and Ireland post-Brexit has focused on issues connected to the border with Northern Ireland and freedom of movement and trade across that border. In a recent analysis for Brexit expert Guy Lougher of law firm Pinsent Masons said unresolved issues surrounding the Irish border were the most likely to derail any Brexit deal.

“The issues related to Ireland are complex, politically charged and practically challenging,” said Lougher. “Bluntly, no solution has yet been identified which meets the practical and political needs of the EU, the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is a major problem and no solution is in sight, and that could have serious consequences not only for Brexit but for continued peace in Northern Ireland and harmony between the governments of the UK and Ireland.”

In September the European Commission published a paper setting out principles for dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland in relation to Brexit. It  proposed a "new customs partnership" or "highly streamlined customs arrangement" aimed at avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods.