Irish preparations for no-deal Brexit intensify

Amid UK political uncertainty, diplomats pessimistic about May plan being passed

BrexitCoveney

Senior executives from the main airlines, aircraft leasing and aircraft maintenance companies met Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to discuss contingencies.

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Behind the scenes preparations by the Government for a no-deal Brexit have intensified in recent weeks, with detailed planning now under way for the possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU next March.

Senior executives from the main airlines, aircraft leasing and aircraft maintenance companies met with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Minister for Transport Shane Ross and senior officials on Wednesday to discuss Brexit contingencies and preparations.

This meeting preceded a European Commission seminar in Brussels on Thursday, also attended by senior Irish officials, on how air travel would be affected by a no-deal Brexit. Measures to keep aircraft flying in the event of such a development were also discussed.

Though Irish Ministers have been warned to stay off the airwaves in the UK in the run-in to the vote in the House of Commons on the UK-EU withdrawal treaty on December 11th, the Irish Embassy in London is providing daily updates to Dublin on the state of play in Westminster.

Irish diplomats were pessimistic about Mrs May’s prospects during a weekly video conference which involves officials in Dublin, London and Brussels on Thursday morning, sources said.

Possible amendments

However, they reported that a series of amendments on which House of Commons speaker John Bercow has said he will allow votes, before the substantive vote on the treaty, could result in the British parliament voting to rule out a hard Brexit.

Senior Irish officials were also in Brussels for meetings with the commission on Friday about Brexit and no-deal preparations.

Irish officials have also been meeting with French counterparts to discuss possible arrangements for Irish trucks coming through the UK and into the port of Calais, where a special EU lane could be reserved for Irish traffic.

Government sources say preparations have intensified in recent weeks amid continuing political uncertainty in London.

Senior officials say that there is likely to be a step-change in the Government’s public stance after the vote on December 11th, with more obvious and explicit preparations for a no-deal scenario being put in place.

While the Government will continue to plan for what it calls the “central scenario” of an agreed Brexit following a two-year transition period, there will be an acknowledgment if Mrs May is defeated on December 11th that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit will move significantly closer.

Economic crash

In particular, there are growing concerns over the potential economic impact of a no-deal Brexit, following a Bank of England report this week which warned of an economic crash worse than the one precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008.

Concerns centre on the effect on exporters of a sudden fall in sterling, but there are also concerns in the Department of Finance about the budgetary implications of a damaging Brexit.

Mr Coveney said on Friday there is still hope the withdrawal treaty could be passed by the House of Commons, adding that he thought Mrs May “has been underestimated at every step of the Brexit process”.

However, privately, senior Government sources say that a more realistic – but still optimistic – scenario is that the deal passes on a second vote after being defeated the first time.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was critical of the Government’s Brexit preparations, saying it had “failed to show the urgency or activity required to fully prepare for it”.

But Mr Martin reiterated his pledge not to bring down the Government “during the critical phase which Brexit is in”. He said: “An election campaign and lengthy government-formation period would have posed a serious risk to our national interest.”

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