Extend Brexit deadline to ‘avoid Armageddon’, Micheál Martin says

Simon Coveney says British government accepts tariffs ‘clearly inadequate in long-term’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said a no-deal Brexit was moving closer and the British announcement of a tariff regime would be devastating to the rural Irish economy. File photograph: Alan Betson

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said a no-deal Brexit was moving closer and the British announcement of a tariff regime would be devastating to the rural Irish economy. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

The backstop and how it was put together will continue to be the focus of any discussion between the EU, the UK and the Government whether it is “deal or no-deal” on Brexit, the Tánaiste has said.

Simon Coveney told the Dáil that the British government itself acknowledged that the tariffs it announced on Wednesday would not work in the medium to long-term “which is why they are saying it is a temporary solution which is clearly inadequate in the long-term”.

The British government announced a series of “strictly temporary, unilateral” measures on Wednesday morning, saying Britain would not introduce any new checks or controls on goods moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

However, goods entering the rest of the UK from the Republic will face tariffs. These will be a particular threat to the Irish beef and dairy sectors, which sell a large proportion to the British market.

Mr Coveney was responding in the Dáil to questions from Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, who said that at the very least an extension to the Brexit deadline was needed to “allow time for reflection and avoid Armageddon”.

Mr Coveney said the UK authorities acknowledged that a negotiated settlement was the only means of sustainably ensuring no hard border.

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Quoting from the document the British produced, the Tánaiste said that in a no-deal scenario it was in its own interest to to move urgently to discussions with the EU and the Irish Government to avoid a hard border.

Mr Coveney told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin public expenditure and reform spokesman David Cullinane that the response from the EU to decisions at Westminster is that “we’ve gone as far as we can”.

“We have shown a willingness to be flexible,” and “it is up to the British political system to resolve its own issues”, he said.

Since no other solutions have been put forward, the withdrawal agreement and the guarantee on the backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border, is the the best proposal.

“Deal or no deal the principles around the backstop and how it was put together will remain the focus of any discussion that takes place between the EU, British and Irish Government.”

Mr Martin said a no-deal Brexit was moving closer and the British announcement of a tariff regime would be devastating to the rural Irish economy.

“The tariff regime would wipe out the beef industry and many beef and suckler farmers,” he said. “It would cost €800 million for the beef sector alone,” which was already in crisis with prices well below the cost of production.

He asked if the Government had sought EU interventions to provide support packages to the beef sector and what would happen at the border in the event of no deal.

Mr Cullinane said a Brexit stabilisation fund was necessary for the sectors most directly affected. “The pressure is in London but London is playing a game of chicken with Dublin and Brussels as to who will erect checks on a hard border.”

Mr Coveney said the tariffs Britain is proposing are being looked at in detail. He said the Government is in close contact with the European commission and officials are today in talks in Brussels.

“The problem here and the uncertainty all emanate from an inability of the British parliament to be able to give a clear signal through majority support of what they are willing to support.”

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