ONE of Strabane’s biggest employers has warned that the imposition of a hard border in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be a “huge problem” for the firm.
Cooking oil wholesalers, Frylite, has around 10,000 customers across Ireland, selling over 30,000 tonnes of fresh oil per year.
It employs around 240 people at depots in Strabane and Coleraine in the North and also Cork, Galway and Dublin south of the border.
Just over half of these workers are based in Strabane.
With the company crossing the border 9,000 times a year, based on the current level of business, operations director Martin Gormley admitted this week that a potential ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario would present a “huge problem” for the business.
But, with just 41 days to go until Brexit, the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal is increasing.
British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been unable to secure enough backing for the Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with the EU.
In a bid to get the support she needs in Parliament, Mrs May has promised MPs that she will enter into further talks with EU leaders over the Irish ‘backstop’.
However, the EU insists that the deal that was agreed is not up for re-negotiation.
Amid all this uncertainty, during a visit to the North this week, the Prime Minister restated her “unshakeable” commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
With the clock ticking on the Brexit process, the question of what exactly will happen along the Irish border remains a mystery.
Speaking to the Strabane Chronicle this week, Frylite operations director Mr Gormley said it was “very difficult” to prepare for something that was still unknown.
He said that, in order to plan for the impact of Brexit, the firm had engaged the services of a customs expert six months ago.
“He’s told us from day one that customs paperwork will be coming in, whatever form Brexit will take,” the operations director said.
With the help of this expert, who is a former manager of Dover port and also advises the UK government, Mr Gormley said that Frylite was obtaining ‘Trusted Traveller Status’, which will allow the company to move products more freely.
But, in the event of a hard border, Mr Gormley warned that any delays in the thousands of crossings made by the firm on an annual basis would end up having a cost, whether it was in paying drivers to sit at the border or disruptions to the “high level of service” provided to their customers.
“Over the last 30 years, we have built up relationships based on our high level of service. We do not want that interrupted,” he said.
The operations director also warned that, in the worst case ‘no deal’ scenario, the introduction of trade tariffs would have an impact on the business – although just how great that would be remained unknown.
“It’s very difficult to prepare for tariffs when nobody knows what this is going to be like,” he admitted.
Mr Gormley said that, so far, the firm had received very little guidance from central government.
He added that what advice had been received from HMRC had already been given to them by the customs expert.
One of the biggest concerns for Frylite is the potential impact that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would have on population growth on both sides of the border.
Mr Gormley said that economists had predicted that the Republic of Ireland’s economy would grow by 4.5 per-cent in 2019, but that figure would be reduced to 2.7 per-cent in a ‘no deal’ scenario.
The operations director said that Frylite’s customers in the food industry were reliant on population growth, but people were less likely to want to come and live in a country with a struggling economy. He warned that a shrinking population would affect their customers and have a knock-on effect for Frylite.