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Irish food imports and exports are in the front line of the Brexit crisis

As the Westminster drama unfolds in the coming hours, the stark truth is that we do not know what route Brexit is going to take. No Deal is still very much alive and kicking, albeit a little less likely now after Theresa May’s back down in the House of Commons a few weeks ago. It seems more likely that Article 50 will be extended.

All of this one would be forgiven to assume was in the gift of the UK. However, once the UK decides the direction it wants to go, its decision must be ratified by the EU 27.

There is no guarantee that Article 50 will be extended for the period that the UK will want if there is no substantive reason for the extension. Indeed, the EU may counter with a request to extend Article 50 by a longer period.

Effectively the EU is negotiating not only with the British Brexit civil servant, Olly Robbins, and the UK officials headed by Ms May but with the whole of the UK parliament who cannot find a consensus on anything at the moment.

A No deal looms large under these circumstances. Therefore Irish preparations must continue to be intensified by all firms and their supply chains.

The Government is advancing its preparations. Its Brexit Omnibus Bill will protect access to education, health care and public transport between the North and the Republic in the event of a no deal. Revenue will have 400 new customs officers in place by the end of March, although no one will be trained for North-South trade.

It appears only 2% — which amounts to 22 trucks at Dublin Port each day — will be checked physically. And only 6%, or 66 trucks a day, will require documentary checks.

But all this all relies on 100% full compliance and means Irish business will go from making 1.7 million declarations a year to more than 20 million declarations. Revenue will be available to work 24-7 but will expect to have access to customs agents around the clock, which is a huge problem, as there is a shortage of agents in Ireland with the necessary resources and competencies.

If Revenue enforces all rules from the start under a no deal outcome, business and trade will grind to a halt and the ports will become clogged. Planning must combine training with practical experience.

A pragmatic approach must be considered by the regulatory bodies in dealing with traffic to ensure trade keeps moving and businesses stay in business.

Agri-food products require much more onerous documentary and physical checks. For instance, chicken and milk, as well as some fish products will require intensive checks. The just-in-time model in logistics works on the premise of picking and packing and loading trucks on an hourly basis.

Most retail products are imported from the UK for next day delivery to our shops in Ireland on a daily basis and drivers are governed by tachograph regulations. Any delays at ports will add to costs and will also pose welfare issues for drivers.

In the event of delays, there is no information from the authorities about facilities available to drivers around Dublin Port for drivers to take their rest breaks. The Road Safety Authority is responsible for enorcing checks along with the gardaí.

Brexit will, without doubt, instigate change. Contracts in the supply chain wil change and the just-in-time model of distribution will have to be revised. There will likely be a divergence in the rules and standards between the UK and the EU in operator licences, regulatory standards, qualifications, and food safety standards.

We only have to look at the reliance of over 150,000 Irish trucks using the UK landbridge to access continental Europe to realise some of that volume may shift to direct routes.

The industry needs time to adapt to the new trading and regulatory requirements. We know that to trade in as frictionless a manner as possible with so-called “Third Countries” requires a comprehensive free trade agreement. Change can, of course, deliver better supply chains and amid the Brexit mess, there may be opportunities.

Aidan Flynn is general manager at Freight Transport Association Ireland