North businesses must prepare for relegation from the “premier league to the fourth division” of international trade after a hard Brexit, a senior enterprise agency chief has said.
And Martin Johnson, of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), warned the region’s acclaimed food and drink industry was the sector liable to be hit hardest by World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs and restrictions following a disorderly departure of the UK from the EU.
Mr Johnson, who is HIE’s regional head of sectors, inward investment and international trade, made the comments yesterday as the development agency held a workshop in Inverness aimed at helping businesses in the area prepare for Brexit.
He said: “Many businesses have been too busy to make preparations and hoping the situation would be sorted out by politicians.
“But there is now a growing realisation they need to prepare.
“Although still hoping for the best, we are focused on preparing for the worst scenario of a no-deal exit. That would equate to a move from the premier league in international trade terms.”
He added that high WTO trade tariffs on goods such as beef and shellfish would hit the Highlands and islands’ food and drink sector hard in the wake of a no deal Brexit.
Around 30 representatives of local businesses attended yesterday’s event, which was led by Kevin Shakespeare, of the Peterborough-based Institute of Export and International Trade.
Mr Johnson added: “The overall mood among those attending was that business is going to get harder because of Brexit.”