Tánaiste plays down Cabinet’s ‘surprise’ at severity of impact of no-deal Brexit
Devaluation of sterling if no-deal Brexit could make Ireland expensive for British tourists
Speaking after an event in Cork, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he still believed British prime minister Boris Johnson would travel to Dublin next Monday to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Philip Leonard
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has played down suggestions fellow Ministers were taken back by the severity of his warning about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Coveney had briefed Ministers at a Cabinet meeting earlier this week.
“I don’t think people were surprised,” he said.
“It’s not the first briefing the Cabinet have been given on a no-deal Brexit – nobody in the Cabinet should be surprised that there are vulnerable sectors here – those vulnerable sectors we know are fishing, agri-food and tourism.”
Mr Coveney was responding to questions following an Irish Times article which reported that some Ministers were taken aback at the severity of warnings that 10,000 jobs could be lost in tourism within three months in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
“There was no report to Cabinet yesterday, there was nothing in writing, talking about 10,000 jobs . . . No report that I gave referred to the figure of 10,000 in any of the documents that I gave to the Cabinet yesterday,” he said.
Mr Coveney said a discussion involving several Ministers and lasting an hour or so focused on the supports that would be necessary for vulnerable sectors such as tourism, agri-food and fishing in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Asked about the time frame of any job loses, Mr Coveney said unlike others, he did not “ talk about what happens at the Cabinet table”.
However he said, if there was to be a significant devaluation of sterling in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it would make Ireland a more expensive location for British tourists and may have an impact on UK visitor numbers.
Speaking in Cork, where he announced 40 new jobs at accountants Crowleys DFK, Mr Coveney was also reluctant to comment on events at Westminster where the opposition is seeking to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31st.
Asked if he thought sterling had strengthened on foot of the increased likelihood of a UK general election, he said he thought it owed more to moves to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
“I think sterling strengthened yesterday on the back of the reduced risk of a no-deal Brexit happening at the end of October [after the votes in Westminster] but of course it could still happen and we have to plan for that.
“I think the strengthening of sterling was more about a no-deal Brexit now being marginally less likely than it was before the votes in Westminster over the last 24 hours but I’m always slow to comment on the politics of Westminster.”
“I have no reason to believe that that won’t happen,” he said.
On border arrangements in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Coveney said no agreement had been reached yet with the EU.
“We have some sense but we don’t have detail on that because it is not agreed yet with the European Commission – as soon as we know, you will know – this is not just an Irish border, it is also an EU frontier with the UK,” he said.
“We need a dual objective here – we need to protect and maintain Ireland’s place in the EU single market so that we don’t get dragged out of the single market against our will, as a result of Brexit.”
‘Uncertainty and volatility’
Separately, speaking on RTÉ radio’s News at One, Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the risk of a no-deal Brexit had “grown” in recent days. He also warned of the need for a “stable political environment” to be maintained in this country, while a British government decision is awaited on what it will do about Brexit and when it will leave the EU.
Speaking from Waterford where he was attending a presentation on regional infrastructure projects, Mr Donohoe said it was a significant development to see “that within the current House of Commons, there is a majority there that is in favour of avoiding a no-deal Brexit”.
“But of course it’s equally apparent to all of us that that there’s a really high level of uncertainty and volatility now afoot in British politics.”
He said we are looking at “uncertainty developing there” and “risk growing there”.
“It’s very important that the stable political environment that we have here in Ireland be maintained,” he said.
“It will be maintained, our sole political focus is on doing all we can to try and get Ireland ready to deal with consequences that might develop after the end of October.”
He also said he and his Cabinet colleagues were “well aware of what will be the employment consequences of a no-deal Brexit”.
He repeated the Government’s warning from earlier this year that, in that eventuality, “up to 50,000 jobs would not be created in our economy that would otherwise be created”.
He said in next month’s budget he would outline supports and plans to be put in place to deal with the consequences of a no-deal Brexit if it happens.
“A no-deal Brexit will create many unknowns, it is an event the like of which the UK or Europe has not had to confront before, but all that can be done will be done to protect us from the kind of risks that we can plan for.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party had already begun preparations for a general election in Northern Ireland and remained firm in its resolve not to take up any seats it wins in Westminster.
“All of the evidence in the last number of days, weeks and months and decades demonstrates that Irish interests are not addressed, Irish interests have not been and will never be protected at Westminster and to go down that road is to miss the point entirely, that Irish interests are protected on this island, they’re protected by a whole network of diplomacy and relationships that are Europe-wide and are trans-Atlantic,” she said.
Ms McDonald warned that the Irish Government should not “think its way into a position where it is essentially making a choice between the single market and the Good Friday Agreement”.
She said the Government, at this stage, needed to share more information “as to the nature of their conversation with the European Commission”.
“Any information that’s been made available to the Cabinet needs to now be made available to party leaderships across the Oireachtas and across the island,” Ms McDonald said.
“For us to get to a solution and mitigation we have to have all the facts before us.
“We have to at this juncture, not lose our nerve, I think we need to maintain focus, not to get tied up in the theatrics of the zoo that is Westminster at the moment, I think we need to go back to the first basic premise that all of us agreed right across Irish politics, that we could not countenance a hardening of the border on the island or damage to the Good Friday Agreement and as the prospect of a disorderly Brexit looms, now is not the time to soften that position collectively.”