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Simon Coveney: The backstop is overwhelmingly supported. This gets little recognition in the UK Brexit debate

A hard Brexit, if the UK chooses one, will be ugly and difficult, says the Tánaiste.

Simon Coveney says any backstop alternatives will be inferior and will be damaging to Ireland.
Simon Coveney says any backstop alternatives will be inferior and will be damaging to Ireland.

TODAY MARKS THE 10-week point until Brexit. The manner in which the UK government chooses to leave the EU after 47-years of membership is still undecided despite 27 other countries dedicating more than two and a half years to negotiations centred around British red lines.

The possibility of the UK choosing to leave the EU without a deal is still very real and so in Ireland we cannot take our minds off preparations.

There are few contingency plans that will totally cancel out the damage of a no deal Brexit, there are merely mitigation measures to soften the blow.

‘Ugly and difficult’

A hard Brexit, if the UK chooses one, will be ugly and difficult. That is why we need businesses to ensure that the next 70-days are used to be as ready as they can be.

The government’s central portal for this is Here businesses will find the first steps to the training and supports available across the country. Customs training has been particularly well attended in recent weeks for firms trading with the UK who haven’t had to complete customs declarations before.

The Revenue Commissioners have also spoken by phone with an additional 10,000 businesses to get them an EORI number, without which a firm will not be able to trade with the UK.

There are nine steps that all businesses, large and small, should take now:

  1. Understand the new rules for UK importing and exporting
  2. Review your supply chain and UK market strategy
  3. Be aware of possible changes to transport and logistics
  4. Review all your certification, regulation and licencing
  5. Review your contracts and data management
  6. Ensure you are maximising Government Brexit programmes and supports
  7. Manage your cash flow, currency and make sure your banking is in order
  8. Protect and inform your staff
  9. Know more about the impact to your sector

It feels a bit strange for me to have to keep stating this, but I have read some commentary this week that was vague, to say the least, on the fact that Ireland will remain a fully committed EU member state after Brexit.

That is the country’s number one contingency, our EU membership and all of the security and support it brings.

Simply put, Irish businesses will continue to have full access to the biggest single market in the world after Brexit, UK businesses will not. Our EU membership is the cornerstone of our economy and that will not be changing.

Leaving the single market and customs union is the UK’s choice.

Overnight change for the UK

The deal negotiated between the UK and EU gives British business the transition period until 2021 where everything would stay the same while a future trade deal is being negotiated. If the UK government and Westminster chooses a hard Brexit and rejects that deal, then they reject this transition period and choose overnight change.

Therefore, a like for like comparison between the UK and Ireland on no deal preparation is somewhat redundant as we will not be starting from scratch in Ireland. Our EU membership will be there in the case of a hard Brexit and that will bring vital supports for the most exposed and worst hit sectors.

We will not be dragged out of the single market and customs union for convenience and will protect our EU membership.

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I said at the start of July that our work with the European Commission on the twin objectives of protecting Ireland’s place in our single market whilst also preventing infrastructure at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is happening.

Inferior backstop alternatives

That work, for the case of no deal, is ongoing and there are no easy answers. What is apparent is that any answers we find will be far inferior to the backstop and will badly hit the all-island economy.

That is why the backstop and the Withdrawal Agreement are so heavily supported in Northern Ireland. In fact, I have been struck in recent meetings and by recent polls that showed me support for the backstop in Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, has grown in recent months among all sectors and communities.

The backstop is overwhelmingly supported by business, farmers, unions and employers in Northern Ireland. This gets very little recognition in the Brexit debate in the UK.

A lot can happen in politics in ten-weeks, but ten-weeks is a very short time in business.

The time for a ‘wait and see’ approach has passed for business. Companies, particularly small and medium enterprises, need to act but they are not alone. There are multi million Euro supports available including training, grants, loans and expertise on mapping supply chains and markets.

If your business hasn’t taken the first steps on being Brexit ready, the state agencies and EU supports are there for you. The time to act is now.

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