Government to ramp up no-deal Brexit preparations

Tánaiste to brief Cabinet on contingency plans as no-deal now seen as likely outcome

Simon Coveney

The Government will this week launch another wave of no-deal Brexit preparations. Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP


The Government will this week launch another wave of no-deal Brexit preparations.

It will urge State agencies, Government departments, businesses and the public to prepare for the likelihood of the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union on October 31st.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will bring three memos to Cabinet on Tuesday dealing with various aspects of no-deal preparations. Sources briefed on their contents say there is a need to shift preparations for a British crash-out into a new gear, as officials increasingly view a no-deal exit as a likely outcome.

Effectively, officials will begin a countdown to a no-deal exit, which will take place – in the absence of agreement between the UK and the EU, or another extension – in 115 days from today.

Sources concede the Government will be faced with questions about how it reconciles the twin objectives of maintaining no Border infrastructure while protecting the single market, though it is not expected that the memos this week will offer definitive answers to this vexed question.

It is expected that Ministers will be briefed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting on the threats to the all-Ireland economy and especially to small businesses in the North, in the event of no-deal.

Writing in The Irish Times today, Mr Coveney says “we hope sensible, evidence based politics prevails over slogans in the UK”.

One of the biggest dangers Ireland faces, he adds, is “the boy who cried wolf effect . . . whereby people and business assume that because a disorderly Brexit was averted in March and April the same will happen in October.”

“To assume this would be a serious error,” says Mr Coveney.

He reiterates that the Government will not reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement and strongly defends the backstop. This is the mechanism that was designed to ensure a seamless Border on the island of Ireland after the UK’s departure from the EU.

However, Mr Coveney also concedes that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the backstop will disappear in which case the all-Ireland economy will be in particular danger.

The Dáil is due to debate the Government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit on Thursday, before the summer recess.

Meanwhile, Conservative leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have made clear that they would leave without a deal on October 31st if there is no renegotiation of the agreement and the Northern Ireland backstop in particular.

With little prospect of meaningful exchanges between London and Brussels in August, sources on all sides acknowledge that a no-deal countdown will be well under way by September.

MPs at Westminster could use a Northern Ireland Bill on Monday to block Mr Johnson from suspending parliament to force through a no-deal exit in October – something which he has threatened to do.

What will happen to the North?

Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve said the Bill, which would delay Stormont elections while powersharing talks continue, is a legitimate mechanism to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

“Northern Ireland and Brexit go rather closely together. The chances are, if Brexit goes through – a no-deal Brexit – it is going to be the end of Northern Ireland’s union with the United Kingdom, with serious political consequences flowing from it,” he told the BBC. “That’s a Bill that is a perfectly legitimate place to start looking at how one might make sure no-deal Brexits are fully debated before they take place.”

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill would delay the need to hold an Assembly election until October 21st, with the option of a further extension until January 2020. It would also give civil servants more clarity about what decisions they can make in the absence of an Executive.

With parliament due to go into recess on July 25th and the current extension expiring on August 25th, the government hopes to pass all stages of the Bill on Monday.

Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn has tabled an amendment that would oblige the British government to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if the Stormont institutions have not been restored within three months. Mr McGinn’s amendment has cross-party support and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said last week that the government would allow a free vote on the issue.

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