Ireland’s leading business group has welcomed the country’s plan to double its diplomatic trade presence by 2025 to head off damage that Dublin fears it will otherwise suffer because of Brexit. Speaking during the second day of a three-day visit to Canada, Leo Varadkar, Irish prime minister, said the plan meant “new and augmented diplomatic missions as well as significantly increased resources for our investment, tourism, cultural and food agencies overseas”. Sarah Freeman, policy director at Chambers Ireland, welcomed the plan, but urged the government to back it up with proper funding. “The UK’s exit from the EU in 2019 will require us to focus on building new trade links, increasing investment and growing tourism into Ireland,” she said.
The UK is publishing a series of position papers on Brexit including one released last week that sought to avoid customs posts along Northern Ireland’s 310-mile border with the Irish Republic when it becomes the UK’s land border with the EU. A report in January by Ireland’s finance ministry and the Economic and Social Research Institute, a Dublin think-tank, estimated that Ireland’s exports to the UK could fall 30 per cent in the decade after a hard Brexit, and the Irish economy could be 4 per cent smaller than it would have been had the UK remained in the EU. “Ours is a highly competitive, export-driven economy, which has recovered very strongly from the economic crisis of the last decade,” Mr Varadkar said. FT Brexit Briefing Email Follow the big issues on the separation of the UK from the EU. DAILY One-Click Sign Up But he said Ireland now faced “undoubtedly the greatest set of political and economic challenges in a generation, as a result of Brexit”.
The country sees boosting foreign investment and exports as a way to ameliorate the fallout from Brexit. Mr Varadkar said Ireland had long been recognised as one of the most open trading economies. But its efforts to boost foreign investment have been hampered by continuing criticism of its low tax policy by other EU members and the European Commission.
In a landmark ruling in August last year the European Commission said Apple, the US technology company, owed €13bn in unpaid taxes to Ireland and that its tax arrangements in the country amounted to illegal state aid. The commission ordered the money to be repaid, a decision Ireland has appealed against. The US is the single largest export market for goods made in Ireland, reflecting the scale of US foreign direct investment in the country’s technology and pharmaceutical sectors. But Britain, which last year took just over a fifth of Ireland’s total exports to the EU, matters more to the Irish food and drink sector.