Ireland panic: Boss of Irish dairy firm fears impact of Brexit ‘not good news’

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Michael Hanley, the chief executive of Lakeland Dairies, one of the largest dairy firms operating in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, has enforced the need for a trade deal with zero tariffs and zero quotas. Mr Hanley said 60 percent of the business operates in Northern Ireland and is hoping for “unfettered access” into British markets beyond December 31.

In the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed in January, the UK and the EU agreed Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods, while the rest of the UK will not.

The EU has made it clear there will need to be checks on goods entering the UK from Northern Ireland, amid fears it could distort competition in the market.

A wider trade agreement between the UK and EU remains on the brink, after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier refused to back down on insisting the Britain agrees to a “level-playing field” on trade.

Mr Hanley has insisted after four years he is no closer to knowing what a trade deal will look like and has outlined a set of demands.

In an interview with farming news site AgriLand, he said: “We’ve been living with it for four years. We have 60 percent of our milk in Northern Ireland… so Brexit is very, very important for us.

“There’s a lot of discussions to take place over the next six to eight weeks, but the devil will be in the detail.

“We’re looking for unfettered access for our products, that have always gone into Britain from Northern Ireland.”

The Lakeland Dairies CEO, added Brexit would also bring added costs to business, but acknowledged he would potentially have the advantage of operating out of two different markets.

Mr Hanley: “Brexit is not good news. There is no good news for anybody in Brexit, so the consequences are that there is less return from the market and there is an extra cost of doing business”.

He added: “The fact that we have footprints in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, we will be able to ‘mix and match’, and take as much benefit as possible out of whatever the situation is, and minimise the costs and the negatives that will come out of Brexit, regardless of how ‘soft’ the final Brexit deal actually is”.

Michel Barnier and UK negotiator David Frost held informal discussions in London on Tuesday ahead of the next round of talks on September 7.

This afternoon, Mr Barnier warned Mr Frost will “need to move” his position if the UK wants a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal with access to the EU market.

During a speech at the Dublin’s Institute of International and European Affairs think-tank, the EU chief doubled-down on calls for a level-playing field, amid the complex future trading situation in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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He said: “Of course, Ireland’s particularly close relationship with the UK makes these questions even more important, especially for businesses exporting to Great Britain or competing with British companies.

“Any trade and economic partnership between economies as close and interconnected as ours must include robust and credible mechanisms to avoid trade distortions and unfair competitive advantages.”

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