One of the central issues that is causing a lack of sleep for business leaders ahead of Brexit’s full enactment at the end of the year is the effect that it will have on imports and exports to and from Europe if a free trade deal cannot be agreed with the EU. Michael Dixon, operations director of cleaning and maintenance services provider, Clean Green Services, is one executive who shares these concerns, specifically around the import of raw materials which, if affected, will have cost implications for his firm.
While the trade negotiations remain at a standoff over key issues such as fisheries and state aid, the government has recently moved to put a failsafe in place should trade negotiations fail, via the controversial Internal Market Bill which will give the government the power to override the Northern Ireland Protocol element of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Of course, just as the legislation will preserve the integrity of the UK and allow Northern Ireland unfettered access to the internal UK market, it asks a whole new question of what then will become of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and indeed the Northern Ireland peace process.
These circumstances have once more raised concerns about what may become of the border on the island of Ireland, which Dixon had hoped would be solved by the Withdrawal Agreement struck between the government and the bloc last year.
Writing in The Parliamentary Review, Clean Green operations Dixon said: “One of the main problems for our production arm is the cost of importing raw materials. One of the main resources we import is silicon, which is susceptible to drastic fluctuations in price. Brexit could deepen these issues.
“We own the trademark which allows us to export our products to Europe, and restricted, or at least more difficult, borders between European nations could significantly damage our future growth. Thus, we are looking to base a company in the Republic of Ireland and circumvent Britain’s exit from the European Union. However, this plan of action is still susceptible to the ongoing disputes over the nature of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
The Internal Market Bill has now cleared the committee stage in the House of Commons, after an amendment tabled by the Government to head off a Conservative rebellion was accepted without the need for a vote.
Prime minister Boris Johnson’s concession to rebel MPs ensured that the legislation was to reworded, so that the government must receive the consent of MPs in a vote in Parliament before it can invoke any of the powers in the bill and break international law by reneging on the Withdrawal Agreement.
The Telegraph reports that although the bill will return to the Commons next week, ministers will delay its final stages in the House of Lords until after an EU summit in October, where it is hoped that a free trade deal will be agreed. This means that it is unlikely to return to the Commons until December, shortly before the post-Brexit transition period is due to lapse at the end of the year.
It is hoped that this extension of the timetable for the legislation will deescalate the row with the EU, while the bill can be used as leverage in the final stages of the negotiations.
Notably, the compromise has been insufficient to win over former prime minister Theresa May, who has said that she will remain opposed to the bill when it does eventually come back before MPs.
The ex-PM accused Johnson of behaving “recklessly and irresponsibly” and warned that the compromise did not go far enough.
Speaking in the Commons this week before the bill cleared the committee hurdle, May said: “It makes no difference as to whether a decision to break international law is taken by a minister or by this Parliament - it is still a decision to break international law.
"I cannot emphasise how concerned I am that a Conservative government is willing to go back on its word, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law.
"One of the great strengths we have as a country is our commitment to the rule of law and this will have been damaged. Our reputation as a country that stands by its word will have been tarnished, and the willingness of other countries to trust the United Kingdom and its values will have been reduced. So much for global Britain."
May also feared that the government’s decision to press ahead with the bill would impact the trade negotiations with the EU, adding: "The Conservative Party upholds the rule of law, it's one of our values, one of our characteristics, yet we're being asked to tear up that principle and throw away that value.”
Johnson has insisted that the legislation remains crucial to allow the free flow of food between Great Britain and Northern Ireland if the UK does leave the EU without a free trade deal.
In response to the latest developments, Germany has demanded that the UK stop playing “games” with the bloc if it wishes to agree a deal in the coming weeks, while France and Ireland have threatened legal action if Westminster does go back on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth said: "We are really really disappointed about the results of the negotiations so far. Please dear friends in London stop the games. Time is running out.
“We're all standing together. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided. And we're certainly right up behind Ireland.”
In the background, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, the minister in charge of planning for a no deal scenario, has written to logistics companies and asked them to be ready for disruption to imports and exports as a “reasonable worst case scenario” when the transition period ends, including the likelihood of "maximum queues of 7,000 port bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days".
While the row over the legislation goes on and trade negotiations press ahead in the background, businesses such as Clean Green Services are left to nervously sit on their hands for the outcome.