Many Irish firms heavily rely on access to British markets in order for their businesses to be successful. But that access is currently being put in doubt as the Brexit deadlock in Westminster leaves Britain on the brink of leaving the EU without a deal and has even sparked fears that Brussels will abandon Dublin in its hour of need. The prospect of new border checks have led to Dublin to request emergency aid from Brussels in order to prop up businesses most at risk.
The Great Northern Distillery, whose business started in 2015 in the border town of Dundalk, has made quick progress but now fears the Irish backstop, the hated mechanism to prevent a hard border, could bring their hard work crashing down.
Alan Martin, the company’s accountant, told the FT: “Our whiskey is beginning to mature.
“But there’s an awful lot of uncertainty. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Brussels has remained supportive of Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s demand for the backstop not to be renegotiated despite MPs in London largely rejecting Theresa May’s draft EU withdrawal deal because of the insurance policy’s inclusion.
Critics in Westminster fear that the EU can hold Britain hostage in a permanent customs union because of the lack of a unilateral exit clause or time limit on the backstop.
The EU’s most senior officials, however, have so far refused suggestions by Brexiteers and Remainers to tweak the backstop.
And now the intransigence shown in Brussels is driving Britain closer to a no-deal Brexit, and in such a scenario Ireland has the most to lose.
The UK is Ireland’s biggest import partner and its second-largest export market after the US.
Without a UK-EU trade deal, many Irish businesses will be hit by huge World Trade Organisation tariffs on their valuable UK trade, extra customs paperwork and the risk of huge delays on goods being shipped to and from the European mainland that usually travel via Britain.
Irish farmers could be virtually wiped out by having to rely on WTO tariffs to trade with Britain, which has led to Mr Varadkar to request emergency EU aid to compensate for any sudden losses of beef and dairy sales in the UK.
The Irish prime minister has also pushed for state-aid waivers to allow his government to save stricken companies from the effects of a no-deal Brexit.
But Mr Martin fears that Brussels may abandon Ireland at the eleventh-hour in order to minimise the risk of a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “There’s a lot of brinkmanship at the minute. The EU seem to be right behind us.
“When push comes to shove, will they still be behind us? It’s a big question.”
Bertie Ahern, former Irish prime minister and veteran of Brussels negotiations, fears that EU support for Dublin may slip in a “doomsday” scenario.
Mr Ahern said: “I don’t think it would be Barnier and company publicly having a press conference in Brussels saying, ‘We’re leaving or letting down the Irish and we’re sorry we’ve changed our mind’.”
The Irish politician fears that any move will come behind closed doors in the final days before any potential no-deal scenario.
“People would start saying, ‘Jesus, listen we can’t let this happen, we have to find some solution’,” he said.
“That’s the context.”