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'A lot of questions to be answered': Reaction over government's no-deal Brexit plan

The Irish government yesterday published its preparations thus far for a no-deal Brexit.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated Dec 20th 2018, 10:43 AM

REACTION HAS BEGUN rolling in after the Irish government last night published its preparations thus far for a no-deal Brexit. 

The 131-page document lays out the plans under the headings: economic and fiscal; security; Northern Ireland and North-South relations; relations with Great Britain and sectoral analysis.

Speaking last night, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that the plan makes for a “stark” and “sobering” read, and said that this wasn’t a plan to keep things as they are, but a “damage-limiting exercise”.

Coveney last night conceded that there are no contingency plans for a border on the island of Ireland; neither are there plans to prepare fisheries for a no-deal.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee said that “Brexit is what threatens the possibility of a border being reintroduced on this island”.

“Brexit is not an Irish policy, it’s not our objective, so for us the onus is on the UK to address this problem and to make sure there is no reintroduction of a border,” McEntee said. 

“For us, we’re not going to plan because this is not our policy.”

In relation to agriculture, a host of measures are being made for a sector that seems most susceptible to a hard or no-deal Brexit. The European Commission has suggested that there will need to be “simplified border controls” on animals and animal products travelling between the EU and the UK.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said that “there’s a lot of questions to be answered” and that her biggest concern reading the document was “around agriculture and agrifood”. 

“It is by far the most affected sector and the only plan that I can see is that the aim is to diversify markets, to try move away from the UK being our biggest market, but that’s a medium to long-term goal,” Chambers said. 

“In the short-term, I think that sector is extremely exposed and I’m not satisfied that there’s sufficient planning done to try to protect against that.”

3398 Fine Gael_90558752 Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Other reaction

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce (BICC) welcomed the contingency plans for Brexit, but has urged the UK to pull back from the “brink of trade chaos”. 

Commenting following the release of the plans, BICC director general John McGrane said the plans show the stark reality of the disruption ahead. 

“We welcome government action of course, and we will work with officials and State agencies to help deliver as many practical supports as possible for all businesses,” McGrane said. 

The whole EU needs uniformly applied relief measures but relief is not a cure. 

In relation to trade, the government said that many of the same preparations needed for a “central case” scenario, or Brexit with an agreed deal, are the same for a no-deal Brexit, but those measures would have to be rolled out much faster.

“The only way to avoid widespread disruption of trade and jobs is for the UK parliament to avail of the Withdrawal Agreement that the EU has agreed with Prime Minister May to access a transition period during which a strong and comprehensive long-term trade agreement for goods and services can be negotiated for the benefit of all,” he said.  

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Tánaiste Simon Coveney gave some insight into the “central case scenario”. 

“What we’re doing here is we are planning on the basis of what’s called a central case scenario, so in other words the most likely outcome which is that there would be a deal, there would be a transition period for about two years and at the end of that there’d be a free trade agreement between the EU and the UK that would involve some requirement for border checks,” Coveney said. 

The challenge of a no-deal Brexit is that would have to have that infrastructure and those increased staffing levels in place far sooner.

“The central case scenario means that much of this infrastructure would have to be in place by the end of 2020 because that’s when the transition period would end as part of the deal potentially unless it gets extended, which it could do,” he said. 

If there’s a no-deal scenario, that trading infrastructure which is needed to protect the integrity of the EU single market, would need to be in place by the end of March of next year. 

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson David Cullinane has said the government’s Brexit contingency plans fail to protect the all-island economy and avoid a hard border. 

To prepare for Brexit, the government is buying up land at Dublin Port and Rosslare Port in anticipation of additional customs checks. It’s not expected, however, that everything will be in place at the ports in time for a no-deal scenario.

Commenting of that matter, Cullinane said: “It is incredible that apart from buying a bit of land in the docklands and hiring more officers, the Irish government has devolved all responsibility for dealing with a no-deal Brexit to the EU Commission.”

He added that “with no plans in place to avoid a hard border, it is all the more likely, of course, that a hard border is what we will get”. 

Speaking of the plans for Dublin Port and Rosslare Port, Coveney said: “We’re talking already about 13 inspection bays for trucks coming off ships, we’re talking about parking for 270 trucks to ensure that there’ll be a proper waiting area in the port, we’re talking about office accommodation for an additional 144 staff in the port.”

Thus far, the Irish government and the EU have staunchly denied the need for no-deal Brexit preparations, saying that it could take the focus away from trying to strike a deal.

But the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement looks unlikely to be passed by the House of Commons; if that does happen a no-deal Brexit is increasingly likely.

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha and Christina Finn 

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