Contingency plans in train for no-deal Brexit

New legislation and amendments to existing laws will be presented if UK crashes out of EU

At an event in Cork on 5th October, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that the UK and EU negotiators need to increase efforts to secure a Brexit deal that solves the border issue. Video: Simon Carswell


Government contingency plans to deal with a disorderly Brexit will be presented to Cabinet for approval late next month if there is still no EU-UK deal after a special summit of European leaders in Brussels.

The plans include dozens of pieces of legislation along with amendments to existing legislation that would be required to deal with the fallout from the UK crashing out of the EU without an agreement, sources said.

The Government is stepping up contingency planning for a potential no-deal Brexit as negotiations between the EU and UK enter a critical phase in the run-up to a final deadline next month.

A special Brexit summit of EU leaders is expected to be called for the week of November 12th should the EU and the UK fail to reach a deal to maintain an open Irish Border after Brexit – the final sticking point in the withdrawal agreement – at an EU meeting of leaders in Brussels on October 18th and 19th.

State officials are starting to consider when to begin implementing contingency plans, including at least 40 pieces of legislation and amendments to existing legislation, in the event of no agreement.

Plans have been prepared by Government departments, co-ordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the measures would likely be put to the Cabinet meeting during the third week of November, the week beginning November 19th, following next month’s special summit, if there was still no EU-UK deal at that stage.

Loans and supports

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on Friday the Government had “a whole series of contingency plans in place” and would be spending “hundreds of millions of euro” in loans and supports for businesses and other measures such as hiring new customs and food inspectors in anticipation of Brexit.

Mr Coveney said EU and UK negotiators “need to lock themselves in a room for the next 10 days” to hammer out a legal text on the backstop for political leaders to approve the plan at the October summit.

He was speaking before the first in a series of “Getting Ireland Brexit Ready” conferences organised by the Government this month, where 500 companies heard advice from 12 State agencies on the need to prepare for the UK’s departure.

The Tánaiste told the “Brexpo” conference in Cork that he thought a no-deal Brexit was “very unlikely”. But he expected “a bumpy few weeks” ahead and that a political agreement would eventually be “hard won”.

The EU and UK are deadlocked on the backstop – the insurance policy in the withdrawal treaty to be triggered should no better solution emerge in future trade talks that would maintain an open border.

Brussels has proposed the text of a backstop that would effectively keep Northern Ireland under EU economic rules, but London has rejected this, claiming it would split the North from the rest of the UK.

Draft text

Theresa May’s government is working on its own draft text that would keep the whole of the UK tied with EU rules and specific solutions for Northern Ireland requiring some checks along the Irish Sea.

“That text needs to be put on the table in the negotiating room in Brussels and it needs to be worked on along with the text that is already on the table from the EU’s perspective to see whether we can find a middle ground position here,” Mr Coveney told The Irish Times at the conference.

The Tánaiste said that the compromise text must protect EU interests but also recognise the “political challenges” in reassuring unionists. The Democratic Unionist Party, which keeps British prime minister Theresa May’s government in power at Westminster, opposes checks between Northern Ireland and Britain.

There was “no room for ambiguity” in the language of the backstop, Mr Coveney warned, but said that a solution would “inject some much-needed optimism” into the negotiations on an EU-UK trade deal.

He urged businesses to plan for “different Brexit scenarios,” including the possibility of no deal so they have their own “backstop” or “insurance mechanisms” in place just as the Government has.