Having ousted its previous prime minister and navigating through an economic crisis, the U.K. has renewed negotiations with Brussels on a range of topics, with new leader Rishi Sunak meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the COP27 summit in Egypt earlier this week.
One of the issues at hand is the Northern Ireland Protocol, a divisive part of the Brexit divorce deal which kept the Irish land border open by creating a new trade border in the Irish Sea.
For the U.K.’s sizable FinTech sector, an agreement that ensures minimum friction at the Irish border is especially important as it represents an important bridge to the EU.
And with little progress made under the Johnson and Truss governments, Sunak now has an opportunity to turn a clean page and reset the U.K.’s relationship with Europe.
Ireland’s Cross-Border Workforce
The stretch of Ireland between Dublin and Belfast has been called the FinTech corridor due to the critical role the island plays in connecting British FinTechs to wider European markets and EU-based companies to the U.K.
For example, since opening its European Engineering Hub in Dublin in 2019, Stripe has been in a position to tap talent pools on both sides of the border.
Commenting on the engineering center in an interview with the Belfast Times, Stripe’s Chief Technology Officer David Singleton said “[there] will be fantastic jobs at the heart of Stripe, and with the great talent in the workforce in Northern Ireland, with Queen’s University and Ulster University, there is a great opportunity.”
Another global payments firm that’s looking to take advantage of tech talent in the north and south of the island, PayPal, has set up shop in the town of Dundalk, which sits right in the middle of Dublin and Belfast, about an hour’s drive from each city.
Out of the Dundalk site, PayPal supports InterTrade Ireland’s FUSE program, a cross-border initiative to provide investment opportunities, support and mentoring for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the Irish FinTech corridor.
“The leadership team based at PayPal’s site in Dundalk, County Louth, has a wealth of skills that we believe can benefit local small businesses,” PayPal’s Alan McEneaney said at the time. “The FUSE program has been designed to pair our leaders with these small businesses, enabling meaningful conversation and skill sharing to help accelerate their growth,” he added.
So, from all indications, the ability for workers to cross freely between north and south is essential for the health of the FinTech ecosystem across Ireland. And while ending the right to work for EU citizens was a significant factor behind the U.K.’s vote to leave the union, there appears to be little appetite for such restrictions to be placed on residents of the republic.
Also at stake is the future of the devolved government in Stormont, which has been in a state of limbo since the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) boycotted the power-sharing executive in May over its objection to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Earlier this month, the Irish Taoiseach, Mícheál Martin, said that a breakthrough in negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol could pave the way for a restoration of the Stormont government.
Until such a breakthrough comes and Northern Irish politicians are once again able to sit around a table together, the country will continue to lack the political leadership needed for business across Ireland’s FinTech ecosystem to flourish.
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