Government to spell out ‘uncomfortable’ Brexit realities

Contingency plans to be released on Thursday will focus on scenario of ‘no deal’ Brexit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: Government document is expected to focus on expanded checks in Irish ports and increase in veterinary checks. Photograph: Philip Toscano/AFP/Getty

The Government will spell out for the first time this week some of the "uncomfortable" realities the State will have to address in the event of a no-deal Brexit in March.

The latest Government contingency plan, to be released on Thursday, will focus for the first time on the possibility of a “no deal” Brexit instead of the UK having a managed EU departure, which had previously been expected.

The document will be published as part of a sequence co-ordinated with the European Commission, which will issue an updated Brexit contingency bulletin on Wednesday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and general secretary to the Government Martin Fraser were finalising the document over the weekend and it will come before the Cabinet for approval on Tuesday.


While neither the Government nor the commission document will outline in any huge detail the nature of the “fixes” to be put in place in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Government sources said there would be “new information and it’s going to be uncomfortable”.

The Government document is expected to focus on expanded checks in Irish ports, as well as an increase in veterinary checks.

Details not specified

“We will issue further contingency updates in January, February and March if we are heading that way. Not all of the scope [of the solutions] will be apparent in December,” a source said. “There is a very deliberate policy by the EU Commission not to specify in detail any contingency plans for a no-deal scenario.”

The rationale underlying this approach, sources said, is that despite the continuing impasse over the Northern Ireland backstop, a deal is still possible.

Setting out “fixes” for a no-deal scenario would not be considered helpful to the discussions, as it would create “hostages to fortunes” to be seized upon by those unhappy with the withdrawal agreement, one source said.

The commission has been holding seminars on key sectors for all 27 member states since the middle of November on issues such as financial services, intellectual property, company law and consumer protection, transportation and customs. Once the round of briefings has concluded in mid-January, the commission is expected to publish a large tranche of papers outlining the full scope of its response to the post-Brexit situation.

At its Cabinet meeting last Tuesday, the Government moved its default planning mode from a “central case” scenario – where the UK left with a deal – to a no-deal case. Departments will have to move more quickly to put their contingencies in place because in that scenario there will be no transition or buffer period after March 29th.

‘Plan B’

Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers criticised the lack of information disclosed by the Government on a no-deal situation and suggested its planning could be lagging behind.

“We need to fast-track our responses. I have been asking the Tánaiste for weeks to come before the possibilities but he has not done so,” she said.

“What is ‘Plan B’? What are we going to do if there’s a hard Brexit?”

A Government spokesman said most focus would be on Brussels over the coming week, revolving on talks about clarification on the “backstop” between EU and UK officials.

“Irish officials will of course be consulted but the discussions are between the EU and London,” said the spokesman.

A General Affairs Council meeting of foreign ministers has been scheduled for Wednesday with a view to discussing article 50, which provides the mechanism to give legal effect to the Brexit decision.

However, the meeting looked less likely to happen as of Sunday night because of the political impasse.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times