“I heard recently the disturbing phrase: Small businesses can’t afford to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, while big business can’t afford not to.”

I would like to start by commending in the highest terms the very impressive work that has been done by the businesses, the civil society and business organisations represented here today in preparing our society and our industry for the coming departure of the UK from the European Union.

I would also like to congratulate our public servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs and elsewhere who have done so much to ensure that our needs were respected, understood and supported during the negotiation process.

The decision made to leave the EU is one that we in the Social Democrats disagree with and feel was a mistake, but as a democratic choice made by the people of the UK, it is one that we respect.

In 1998, people on both sides of the border on this island also made a democratic decision, to sign up to the Good Friday Agreement. In London as in Brussels that decision must also be respected. Its provisions must not only be respected but acted on, and fully implemented, regardless of the choice of the UK to leave the EU.

The negotiations between the EU27 and the UK’s government have been extremely difficult, but the deal on the table now is fair, and is not just rhetorically but also practically the best deal possible for both the EU and the UK.

Whether that deal can be implemented though, with so little time left until Brexit day is a question left waiting for an answer, and we find ourselves waiting yet again for parliamentary arithmetic in Westminster to finally align.

Let us continue to hope that it will, and that a disorderly Brexit is averted come March.

I heard recently the disturbing phrase: Small businesses can’t afford to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, while big business can’t afford not to.

Irish businesses have been told by government for the last two and a half years that a disorderly Brexit was unthinkable, and sadly as a result of this communications strategy, many have put it out of their minds.

Now though, there are serious cracks opening in this optimism which need to be addressed. The Brexit loan scheme was a great help for businesses that knew about it, and that had the time and resources to dedicate to taking advantage of it, but for the majority of small and medium enterprises, that was not really possible in practice.

Just on Wednesday, the governor of the central bank Philip Lane listed the impacts of a no-deal scenario on Ireland, outsized on rural areas, and obviously regions near the border.

While again I congratulate the sterling work done by the civil society and business organisations represented here on this front, it is unfortunate that more has not been done from central government to mitigate this forseeable risk over the course of the last two and a half years.

After Brexit day, and given the intransigence and slow pace of the negotiations that brought us to this point, it is hard not to be pessimistic about talks on the future trade relationship between the EU and the UK.

Time is short, the consequences of failing to support our society and industry at this juncture could be enormous. The government now has to go out of its way to ensure that we are as well prepared as possible should the worst case play out.

ENDS

Speech delivered at All Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit, in Dublin Castle on Friday 15th February 2019.