Brexit sectoral analyses highlight UK’s extensive links to Ireland

Northern Ireland exports around £20m (€22.6m) of fish products to the Republic annually, the UK exports around twice as much freight to Ireland than it imports, and Ireland is the fourth most visited country by UK travellers.

These are just some of the detail contained in the UK government’s sectoral analyses prepared in advance of the country’s departure from the EU and published ahead of Christmas by the House of Commons Brexit Committee.

Sectors examined range from agriculture and food, to defence, tourism, aviation, haulage and construction.

The UK government has been pilloried, though, for the perceived lack of detail in the documents, which broadly paint a statistical picture of the composition of the various sectors.

Instead, it is left largely up to the reader’s imagination to guess the potential impact, or otherwise, of Brexit on each area. That was expected after Brexit Secretary David Davis’ incredible admission before the House of Commons Brexit committee last month that the government hadn’t carried out any formal impact assessments on each sector of the economy.

But the documents do highlight some important statistics about the close nature of the relationship between the UK and Ireland.

The most staggering is the scale of our agri-food sector’s dependence on the UK market.

Just over 43pc of our agri-food products went to the UK in 2015. This has been well flagged, but the figure is considerably out of kilter with other countries.

After Ireland, the state with the greatest dependence on the UK market is the Netherlands, with 10.3pc of its agri-food products exported, followed by Denmark, France and Belgium, all of which are around the 9pc mark.

Northern Ireland is also the most heavily dependent geographic region in the UK on food and drink manufacturing.

The percentage of geographical gross value added (GVA) for food and drink manufacturing is the highest in the North at 5pc, compared with 3pc in Scotland, 2pc in Wales and 1pc in the south east of England.

For agriculture, the share in GVA was 0.6pc for the UK in 2014, increasing to 1pc and 1.4pc for Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.

Jobs-wise, the North is more dependent on agriculture than any other part of the UK.

Agriculture represents 5.7pc of overall employment in Northern Ireland, compared with just 1.1pc in England.

The reports also touch on the importance of Ireland as an export market for the UK’s construction sector, topping the table, followed by Germany, France, the US and Netherlands.

In 2016, the UK exported £918m worth of construction materials here. “The top five export markets for construction materials in 2016 are the destinations for 49pc of total construction materials exports,” the reports state.

“Ireland remains the largest market, despite having shrunk from a pre-recession peak of 27pc of total exports in 2007, to 14 pc in 2016.”

Ireland also makes it into the top five UK export countries for fish by value, coming in at 4th place after France, the US and Spain. Interestingly, the reports note that Northern Ireland exports around £20m worth of fish products to the Republic each year, with imports from the Republic worth around £10m.

We make the top five when it comes to higher education staff also. There are around 4,000 Irish people employed in UK third level institutions, compared with 5,500 from Germany and 3,300 from Greece.

The reports also, of course, reference cross-border traffic. UK-registered HGVs carried 7.5m tonnes of freight between north and south in 2014.

In 2016-2017, it is estimated that 900,000 cross-border coach passenger journeys were made.

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