The situation facing the Irish agri-food and fishing industries on November 1st should there be a crash-out Brexit remains uncertain, the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said.
Mr Creed said the Government was “significantly escalating” its preparedness for a no-deal Brexit but that negotiations on the arrangements had yet to reach a conclusion.
“The most exposed sector is the agri-food sector. The all-Ireland agri-food economy works very well now, with seamless movement of product across the border.
“I do accept that that’s in some jeopardy now and obviously we are in negotiations with the [European] Commission on what alternative arrangements can be put in place should the withdrawal agreement fall,” he said. Mr Creed was speaking to the media at a seminar on Brexit preparedness in Dublin on Tuesday.
Asked specifically about the situation facing Irish trawlers entering UK waters on November 1st, and of the need for checks on the Border, he acknowledged that nothing had been worked out with the new British government under Boris Johnson as yet.
“There is a proposal that current arrangements for fishing industry under the common fisheries policy will continue to apply until the end of the year. That’s a sensible approach.
“Previously, the UK government has demonstrated a willingness but we are unsure of the attitude of the current government there.”
On border checks, he said the Government had given a fundamental commitment there there would be “no hard infrastructure” on the Border.
However, he said that the Government had to marry that with its obligations that the Border did not become a backdoor for illegal access to the European single market.
“They are difficult conversations. We want to continue to take hundreds of thousands of litres of milk from Northern Ireland farmers, east and west of the [river] Bann, to be processed in the Republic.
“There are 400,000 sheep which come from Northern Ireland to be processed in plants in the South.”
He said in a no-deal Brexit scenario, finding a bridge to link the commitment to the Belfast Agreement and the obligation to protect the single market was very complex.
Part of that related to the location of checks.
“The plan is in negotiation. The detail is not available yet. We are working within the competing parameters of commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of the single market.
He said the Government had yet to see any alternative arrangements to the withdrawal agreement being proposed by the British government, including at the meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the British prime minster.
He said another critical issue was the landbridge from Ireland through Britain and on to other EU countries.
“We would have concerns about the capacity to deal with requisite checks with the UK as a third country . . . Our anxiety is not to be snarled up in that tailback,” he said.
He said he had heard from British industry about the lack of preparedness there for a hard Brexit but said his preoccupation was with his own department. He repeated that preparations were being escalated significantly.