By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

It is said that a week is a long time in politics – but judging by the relentless daily developments in Brexit, it seems that each day has enough activity to fill even the longest week.

In one of several breaking developments yesterday, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be a failure on the parts of both the British and Irish governments.

Our message on the UK leaving the European Union without a deal has long been clear – it must be avoided.

It is a concern we will once again bring to the Prime Minister tomorrow as the IoD joins a business delegation for a meeting at Downing Street.

Mr Johnson’s assertion on crashing out of the EU came ahead of a first face-to-face meeting with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar since he took up the prime ministerial post in July.

He remains bullish about the possibility of securing agreement with the EU ahead of 31st October and that he can get a new proposal passed by Parliament.

That may sound like pie in the sky – especially given the institution is now suspended until 14th October – but in this part of the world, we know a thing or two about reaching agreement when all seems lost.

The Good Friday Agreement is a clear testament of that fact but also that finding a settlement rarely comes without compromise on all sides.

Achieving agreement without significant compromise is a task that for the Prime Minister appears to be becoming more difficult by the day.

His majority in the House of Commons is now long since extinguished and it was concerning to note that Amber Rudd, just one of a raft of high profile Conservative MPs to resign ministerial posts in recent days, cited the fact that the government was spending too much time preparing for ‘no deal’ when it should be trying to reach a deal with the EU, as part of her reasons.

Of course, we are not saying that ‘no deal’ should not be planned for. Indeed, it is prudent and exactly what we have been advising members to do given that it remains the default Brexit outcome.

That said, a recent UK-wide IoD survey found businesses across the economy are “seriously underprepared” for ‘no deal’, with smaller businesses especially facing “unknown unknowns”.

Many have been waiting to see what would happen and although the message from the government is getting clearer, it is still not clear enough.

Politicians may be prone to rhetoric but for businesses, wishing away the possibility of a ‘no deal’ is not an option. It is a real and present risk that requires detailed information and assistance from the government.

Recently announced additional funding earmarked for Brexit preparations is viewed very much as a necessary precaution but it is disappointing that there is still no full detail even on the business readiness funding portion of the £2 billion announced by the Chancellor more than a month ago.

Firms are in desperate need of further tangible guidance and financial support to properly plan for every outcome.

For our members locally, companies trading with others in the Republic of Ireland have very little detail from either the UK government or the EU to work with.

With the Department for the Economy predicting as many as 40,000 job losses in a ‘no deal’ scenario, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Thankfully, fears of a UK-wide recession have been eased by the latest official statistical data showing the economy grew by 0.3 per cent in July – much faster than anticipated.

However, the same could not be said on the local front, with Ulster Bank’s latest Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) published this week finding the Northern Ireland economy had either “entered or is entering recession”.

There was little comfort either in the outlook from EY which this week revised down its growth expectations across Ireland in its Economic Eye report.

It foresees a Northern Ireland economic growth rate for 2020 lower than the Republic of Ireland at 1.1 per cent, increasing to 1.6 per cent in 2021 – but this assumes an orderly Brexit.

A ‘no deal’ scenario, would be “sufficient to push Northern Ireland into recession” the report warned.

All this would be enough to deal with, if we didn’t also have the ongoing impasse at Stormont.

Without devolved government in place, the Northern Ireland Office and local civil servants are in serious need of resource to improve Brexit planning and adjustment, not least to help support industry through the changes that may be upon us.

That’s before attention is turned to rebooting Northern Ireland’s stalled infrastructure and addressing other key issues such as access to skills.

No doubt, there will be many more twists and turns in the coming weeks in what could be the most important period in the recent history of the Northern Ireland economy. We will continue to engage with those in positions of influence as we urge them to do all in their power to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit.