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By Mark Kennedy As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 restrictions, minds inevitably turn to restoring trading to a semblance of normality. Our trade with the UK will not, however, return to what we have long considered normal. We sell approximately €34 billion worth of goods and services to the UK annually and import approximately €30 billion in return. Today, it appears that the UK Government is determined to proceed with its planned separation from the EU at the end of this year, whether a deal is agreed with the EU or not. Time will tell if this serves the UK. It certainly seems short-sighted to abruptly discard very effective arrangements with its largest trading partner. It may, of course, simply be a negotiating stance – but one European leaders seem determined to dismiss. More than one European leader has made it clear that in their view, Britain would have to “live with” the consequences of Brexit, as Mrs Merkel rather pointedly put it. Meanwhile, back in the UK, things seem to be moving on. The general population seems, if one follows a recent survey by the Guardian newspaper, more inclined to seek an extension, allowing more time for a deal to be done. But that message hasn’t reached Government, where everyone seems to be hunting for the nearest and earliest possible exit. Notably, the opposition doesn’t seem too inclined to make any last-ditch attempt to change that view in any meaningful way. So, what does that mean for an Irish business? As regards Brexit, it looks like our fears of a very shaky series of trade arrangements with the UK may replace the current seamless relationship. Of course, politics will wend its windy way and that may change things, but it looks more likely than ever that not much will be agreed by Christmas. The impact of that will be felt sector by sector. As an example, 30 June 2020 was the planned date for the exchange of a full assessment of the financial services regulatory regimes in Europe and the UK. This date passed without the data requirements being met by the UK, which means that the continuation of existing cross-border arrangements with the City of London is less and less likely and will ultimately impact the broader sector. We will likely see the same uncertainty re-emerge in other sectors in the months ahead. And what of COVID-19? What consequences does that have for us as a (relatively) small, open economy? Two scenarios beckon. In the first, the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world – or at least the countries we trade energetically with – will enjoy a V-shaped recovery from the “Great Interruption”. The second is that we, the UK and many more will suffer from a resurgence of the virus – the so-called “second wave” of infections. This will be akin to a re-run of the 2009-10 recession, albeit with an entirely different cause and, potentially, consequences. In the former, Brexit is a headache and, for some businesses, a potentially devastating one. In the latter, we face a much more generalised slowdown. On top of that, as the emerging decisions on Ireland’s status as a travel ‘partner’ for European countries have shown, the rest of the EU will not necessarily and spontaneously act in a way that suits our strategy. The confluence of the pandemic, geography and economic recession may mean that we are about to enter the most challenging period, economically speaking, of our long process of disentangling from the UK. The answer? In both cases, and in the short-term: a robust stimulus package to encourage recovery. The Government should not delay in implementing as-large-as-possible a package of measures to support challenged business in dealing with both COVID-19 and Brexit. We should lean heavily on the EU in this regard – the departure of the UK is as significant an event for the EU as the reunification of Germany, and budget needs to be made available to manage the process. The EU needs to ensure that impacts are substantially absorbed as a collective exercise, but all of that is really about recovery. For Irish businesses, the first challenge is to survive both Brexit and COVID-19. The next is to take on something we should have done before now: to diversify our trading partnerships, both within and outside the EU, so we are no longer dependent on the UK for almost 20% of our trading activity. Mark Kennedy is Managing Partner at Mazars Ireland.

Jul 02, 2020
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By Paul Rodgers and Simon MacAllister The Withdrawal Agreement of 17 October 2019 brought a wave of optimism after the tedious doom and gloom surrounding Brexit. It bought time and goodwill, as it seemed that the dreaded hard Brexit had been avoided. Fast-forward to today and time is running out, goodwill is in short supply, and a hard Brexit still looms on the horizon. So, what has been decided and what remains unclear as we approach 2021? Quick recap The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. However, the transition period has meant a continuation of the status quo to allow time for the future relationship to be agreed. The UK Government has categorically stated that it will not seek an extension of the transition period, which means 1 January 2021 is a hard deadline. The goal of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of the year looks as far away as ever, with both sides still disagreeing on several critical issues. If no FTA is agreed, the new relationship will be based on WTO rules – the dreaded “hard” Brexit. What is clear From 1 January 2021, there will be a customs border in effect between the UK and EU for the first time in over 25 years. Customs formalities (import/export declarations, presentation of documents, customs checks) will take place for movements between the UK and EU. Regardless of the outcome, trade compliance processes and procedures should be in place for 1 January 2021. What isn’t clear Hard Brexit or FTA?: In the case of a hard Brexit, WTO tariffs will apply to trade between the EU and UK. In some sectors, such as agri-food and apparel, high duty rates will have a material impact on landed costs. An FTA would mean that UK- and EU-originating goods could, subject to specific criteria, clear customs at a 0% duty rate. This would be a significant cost saving for traders in the high duty sectors mentioned above. However, there is a compliance burden and cost associated with FTA management. Customs easements: The UK has announced that it will ease the customs impact of Brexit for imports from the EU for the first six months of Brexit until 30 June 2021. Depending on the type of goods, there may be significant clearance simplifications and cash-flow benefits available to traders. The operational details are still being worked out. At the time of writing, Ireland has not yet confirmed any reciprocal arrangements. Northern Ireland: Despite the Northern Ireland Protocol, the customs and operational treatment of goods to/from Northern Ireland and Great Britain are still being worked out. Squaring the circle of Northern Ireland being part of the customs territory of the UK, while simultaneously being subject to EU customs and regulatory laws to keep it aligned with the EU customs union and single market, is proving as difficult as it sounds. However, one point is clear: there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. Get ready There will be no more delays or extensions, and the transition period will end on 1 January 2021. Irish companies trading with the UK must put measures in place now to ensure that they are operationally ready to import/export and to prepare for the additional compliance costs, and potential additional duty costs, of a hard Brexit. Paul Rodgers is Global Trade Director at EY and Simon MacAllister is EY Brexit Lead - Island of Ireland.

Jul 02, 2020
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By Carol Lynch As we know, the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. While the UK is currently a non-EU country, the transition period means that importers and exporters have experienced no change in trade with the UK to date. Earlier this year, discussions started on a Free Trade Agreement, which is to be concluded between the parties before the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). The impact of COVID-19 severely hampered negotiations and as most people will be aware, these talks have not progressed particularly well with serious differences emerging over the ‘level playing field’ requirement of the EU, among other things. To add additional pressure, the UK decided not to request an extension to the transition period (the deadline for which was 30 June 2020) and a full economic Brexit will now come into effect on 1 January 2021. Negotiations are now back on, but the UK insists that they must be complete by the end of the summer. There is additional pressure in this regard as David Frost, the UK’s Brexit negotiator is due to move on from the Brexit talks to assume the position of Chief Security Advisor around September. So where does that leave us from a Customs perspective? There will be no frictionless trade from 1 January 2021. At that point, Customs formalities and procedures will come into effect. An open question, however, is whether a Free Trade Agreement will be concluded in time. This would mean, for the most part, no customs duties between the UK and Ireland, but additional documentary requirements for importers in terms of proving and verifying the origin of their goods. These two aspects, along with an update on Northern Ireland, are summarised below. Customs compliance Customs declarations will be required on export from Ireland and import into Ireland. This will involve companies lodging their declarations directly with the Customs authorities or engaging a customs clearance agent to lodge these declarations on their behalf. A simplification on the lodging of customs declarations on import into the UK was introduced to allow particular importers to defer the lodging of a declaration until July 2021. The full import details must nevertheless be provided. Export declarations will also need to be lodged. It is important to be aware of the information to be supplied to the revenue authorities in both jurisdictions, as the importer/exporter of record is liable for the quality and accuracy of the information provided. Customs duty rates If a Free Trade Agreement is not reached, customs duties will apply on imports into Ireland and on imports into the UK. For the UK, this payment may be deferred until July for specific importers but will be payable at that point. Importantly, the new UK tariff was published in May. While last year’s proposed tariff introduced mostly 0% import rates across the board, this has now been scrapped with positive duty rates applied to most products. If there is a Free Trade Agreement, importers must be able to comply with the rules of origin in the agreement and register with Revenue to issue a confirmation of the origin status of the goods. Northern Ireland The Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement provides for no customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If you buy goods from Northern Ireland or sell goods into Northern Ireland under this agreement, there will be no customs formalities. However, there are several complexities in the agreement which are currently being discussed by the Joint Committee, particularly concerning imports to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, transit through the Republic of Ireland to Great Britain, and access to EU/UK Free Trade Agreements. What should importers and exporters do? I recommend that businesses continue to take all steps to:   Ensure that they have the procedures in place to import and export goods post-Brexit. Have all necessary documents and authorisations in place. Decide on how to clear goods, either in-house or through a third-party. Become familiar with the free trade rules. Become familiar with the talks regarding Northern Ireland, where relevant. Carol Lynch is Partner, Customs and Trade, at BDO.

Jul 01, 2020
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How can we support the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace? Alexandra Kane details what it means to be an ally and how it can make a huge difference. “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde The quote above sits among the desks on the fourth floor of the Grant Thornton Dublin building. It’s a poignant reminder and struck me a little differently reflecting on this year’s Pride month. What would it feel like if I couldn’t be myself in the office, that I had to hide a part of my life from my colleagues? What if I were afraid that a part of my life would create a backlash, negative reaction or possible career repercussion? The place we spend most of our time, albeit virtually and on video calls in the current climate, should be one of welcoming and support. To me, as a LGBTQ+ ally, there is not a single reason that anyone should feel that they can’t be who they want to be, who they identify as, and not face any adversity in doing so. In my organisation, there is a huge drive to stand as an ally with our friends and colleagues through our Ally Programme and Embrace initiative. We have marched in the Dublin Pride Parade for the last four years and, took part in BelongTo's ‘Come In’ campaign last year. This initiative flipped ‘coming out’ on its head by promoting the positive message that everyone should be able to come in and feel welcome as they are, rather than having to ‘come out’ as anyone other than themselves. To be an ally An ally can come in many forms, but should always come from a place of support, openness, kindness and ready to do the work. From recent global events in the Black Lives Matter movement, I have learned that it is safe to speak out and say that I didn’t know how to support or say the right things – and that is accepted when it is accompanied by a willingness and promise to learn, educate and support. It’s never too late to educate yourself, even if you have to start at the beginning. Learning about the Stonewall Riots, listening to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of colour, and asking how you can support others is an important step to allyship. We can never under estimate the power of support in any form that it comes in, be it going for a coffee to listen to someone’s concerns, wearing rainbow colours in solidarity, attending the Pride Parade, and actively showing support to colleagues and friends in the workplace. Some recommended viewing for allies: Disclosure, found on Netflix. I recently attended a webinar ‘The L to A LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA’ which explored the ‘lesser known’ letters of the LGBTQ+ community. It discussed why gender identity and sexuality are intrinsically linked. The key take away I received from the webinar is that language is ever changing and our identity is a personal preference. The pronouns or letters we choose is exactly that: our choice. If being an ally makes one person feel more comfortable, supported and accepted as their true selves, I couldn’t encourage being an active ally more. Alexandra Kane ACA is a Manager in Financial Services Advisory at Grant Thornton, a Grant Thornton Ally and member of the Grant Thornton Ally Programme.

Jun 25, 2020
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With no party or march this year, how are businesses showing meaningful support for the Pride movement? John McNamara tell us how can we adapt to actively support the LGBTQ+ community in a virtual space.  So how did you celebrate Pride this year? Yes, we are approaching the end of June, the month where people from all demographics, race, religion and, of course, sexual orientation take to the streets to come together and celebrate acceptance, and agitate for the rights still being fought for. (Unless you live in one of the 73 countries where that is still illegal.) Except, of course, we didn’t march this year thanks to the non-discriminatory nature and reach of COVID-19. Most businesses quickly scrambled to develop virtual programmes to keep staff awareness and engagement alive. Another Zoom call, another webinar, why not? But there are lessons still to be learned that are applicable across the full inclusion agenda, many of which will have the potential for positive enduring business impact. Year-round support Every year there is heated debate on the ‘corporatisation’ of what is, essentially, a protest movement. It will now be very clear which businesses do little else in this space except throw money at Pride parade participation. Now is the time for employees to call out this performative participation in the movement and encourage their organisations to refocus budgets on both active staff collaboration and engagement and support of community organisations throughout the year. LGBTQ+ young people are four times more likely to experience anxiety and depression, three times more likely to experience suicidal ideation and that happens in December as well as June. Creating long-term change If there is no party this year, there is the opportunity to develop meaningful digital messaging, to focus more on staff connection and conversations and to place a stronger focus on advocacy. We have shown more curiosity, shared more of our own lives, and our understanding about our colleagues’ personal circumstances is much deeper than when we sat in the office together. I have heard more conversations on mental health recently than at any time I can think of. The pace of change in many of these issues has historically been too slow. In recent months, however, we have shown our ability to quickly build new business models and our flexibility in remote working. How can we sustain these new ways of working that can, for example, access more women working from home rather than leaving the workforce or accept that highly talented people with neurodiversity need not be present in an office environment to shine in their roles? Intersectionality This year also brings greater awareness of intersectionality which, simply put, means we are complex beings that cannot be defined by one characteristic alone and, depending on the hand you have been dealt, can be disadvantaged by multiple forms of oppression, isolation or exclusion or, conversely, benefit from white privilege. Black Lives Matter is here to stay. The LGBTQ+ community is acutely able to recognise inequality of treatment, that sense of not belonging, and our allyship is evident through activism, protest and sharing the platforms we have through the month and beyond. Do better Most of us do not wish to emerge from this crisis without changing something for the better. We have perfected banana bread, know too much about Joe Wicks and got as far as we could on Duolingo. How about we become proactive in making a personal commitment to ourselves to do more? Become a volunteer, train as a mental health ambassador, develop charity trustee or board experience or become a visible LGBTQ+ ally at work. Do it and you won’t look back. Now that would be something worth celebrating. John McNamara FCA is Managing Director of Canada Life International and a member of the Chartered Accountants Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He is chairperson of the NGO behind SpunOut.ie and 50808.ie, the newly launched free crisis text messaging service funded by the HSE. He a member of the fundraising committee of BelongTo, which supports young LGBTQ+ people.

Jun 25, 2020
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To truly embrace diversity, businesses must view inclusion through an intersectional lens. Deborah Somorin explains why this is so important, both personally and professionally. Intersectionality was first coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, and has gained common usage since. According to Womankind Worldwide, a global women’s rights organisation, intersectionality is “the concept that all oppression is linked… Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc..”. In 2015, ‘intersectionality’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. What does that mean? While Pride is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, it is also a protest, and intersectional Pride continues the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the rights of all marginalised communities in Ireland and around the world. Intersectional Pride Flag You’ll notice the Pride flag on the street and in some corporate Pride logos, such as LinkedIn and Chartered Accountants Ireland, look a little different this year. In 2018, designer Daniel Quasar started a movement to reboot the pride flag to make it more inclusive and representative of the LGBTQ+ rights we are still fighting for. According to Dezeen magazine, “Graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on ‘inclusion and progression’. The flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalised LGBT communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. Quasar’s design builds on a design adopted by the city of Philadelphia in June 2017.” Intersectional allyship To quote a recent GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) statement: “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional”. If we want to celebrate Pride in our profession in an inclusive way, we must make an intentional effort to celebrate intersectional Pride. If Pride doesn’t include the acknowledgement of other marginalised other communities, it is performative. The LGBTQ+ movement doesn’t need performative allies – it needs authentic allies who care about making the communities we work and live in more inclusive of all races, genders, class, physical advantage and sexual orientations. I’m a gay, black woman who happens to be a Chartered Accountant. If your organisation or community is choosing not to view inclusion through an intersectional lens, you are unintentionally choosing not to include people like me. Deborah Somorin ACA is a Management Consultant at PwC, a member of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Committee and founder of Empower the Family.

Jun 25, 2020