Northern Ireland companies have “plenty they can be getting on with to prepare for Brexit”, despite ongoing uncertainty around how the UK’s exit from the EU will finally take shape. That was the message from corporate law firm A&L Goodbody at a Brexit Breakfast this morning, hosted in partnership with the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce & Industry at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel.
Mark Thomspon, Partner, A&L Goodbody, Ann McGregor, Chief Executive, NI Chamber of Commerce and Jonathan Hacking, Associate, A&L Goodbody.
Addressing an audience of over 100 business leaders at the event, Mark Thompson, Partner, A&L Goodbody, said: “It is critical that companies act now to start preparing for Brexit – they mustn’t be stalled by the ongoing uncertainty and volatility. Waiting until March 2019 will simply be too late.
“Currently, much of the discussion is centred around whether we will have a hard or soft Brexit but, in reality, it will sit across a spectrum and will unlikely have binary outcomes. Instead businesses need to focus on examining where they will fit on that spectrum.
“Regardless of what deal is or isn’t negotiated, the post-Brexit trading environment will definitely be different and that’s what NI companies need to focus on for now whilst we await clarification on the degree and nature of the differences. Businesses can asses now their exposure in order to put in place an appropriate route map to deal with the whatever changes flow from the final Brexit deal.”
Designed to be a practical Brexit planning workshop, the event laid out a series of practical steps that companies in Northern Ireland can take now, rather than waiting until March 2019 or beyond.
According to Mr Thompson: “Businesses need to get underway with an internal operational review. This will involve putting together an appropriate internal team – compromising sales, HR, IT, procurement and logistics – and ensuring they have sufficient resources to complete an effective review of their business
He advised that this team will first of all need to map their company’s supply chain and sales channels and assess their exposure to compliance and infrastructure changes. They will also need to understand the extent to which their registered IP is going to be changed by Brexit, and also where their IT systems and servers are based and how this may fit with the post-Brexit world.
Separately, they will need to consider HR issues and determine to what extent their business currently relies on EU nationals, ensuring that they have assessed whether their EU workers meet the criteria for settled status and that non-EEA visa requirements are considered and checked.
Mr Thompson continued: “Upon completion of this operational review, the company’s finance team will need to be consulted to ensure that it’s on top of budgets and likely costs caused by Brexit and that adequate working capital is in place to cope with associated volatility arising. Equally, the Board or strategy group should consider what parts of the company strategy need to be reviewed, whether investment decisions, diversification, rescaling or pushing into new markets.”
Ann McGregor, Chief Executive, NI Chamber of Commerce & Industry, commented: “Firms have been dealing with uncertainty over the future relationship with the EU since the referendum vote over two years ago, however many are still not ready for Brexit.
“In particular smaller firms don’t have the capacity to scenario plan, don’t think they’ll be affected, or have simply switched off from the process altogether.
“Many questions still remain unanswered especially on cross border trade and workforce planning and it is therefore imperative that these decisions are made by government as soon as possible to allow businesses to plan for a successful Brexit.”