’Huge downsides’ to Brexit but also more ’jobs and money’ for Ireland - Taoiseach

Leo Varadkar says State will remain at heart of EU, regardless of what happens ’elsewhere’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who earlier on Wednesday officially opened Barclay’s bank new EU headquarters in Dublin, told the Dáil  the bank was an example of more money and jobs coming into Ireland with Brexit. File photograph: PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who earlier on Wednesday officially opened Barclay’s bank new EU headquarters in Dublin, told the Dáil the bank was an example of more money and jobs coming into Ireland with Brexit. File photograph: PA

 

Ireland will remain at the heart of the European Union no matter what happens with Brexit because major jobs and investment will continue despite the UK’s departure, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Leo Varadkar said there were “huge downsides” to Brexit particularly for SMEs and for the agri-food sector.

But he said there was “also money and jobs coming into the country”.

And he was still hopeful that Westminster could back the withdrawal agreement.

He said he would speak later on Wednesday to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker about what assurances the EU could give to the UK parliament on the withdrawal agreement.

But he stressed that could not mean any changed to the substance of deal including the Northern Ireland protocol.

In the Dáil Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had called for him to publish a detailed Brexit plan and said that the Government should inform the public about the challenges and problems involved.

And he warned about lack of preparation at Dublin Port and Rosslare when compared with the Netherlands, which had 1,000 additional customs officials in place for when the UK is due to withdraw from the EU at the end of March.

Mr Martin also said there were too many firms likely to be adversely affected who did not have plans in place for Brexit.

Brexit plans

The Taoiseach acknowledged that more had to be done for SMEs but 85 per cent of Enterprise Ireland-supported firms, the firms exporting from Ireland, have a Brexit plan in place.

Mr Varadkar, who earlier on Wednesday officially opened Barclay’s bank new EU headquarters in Dublin, cited the bank as an example of more money and jobs coming into Ireland with Brexit.

“People know that Ireland is a good place to do business because the economy is strong, we’ve a good education system, a favourable tax regime for companies, pro-enterprise policies and a political consensus across this House and because we know that our position is at the heart of Europe no matter what happens anywhere else.”

He told Mr Martin that comparisons with Dutch ports were invalid particularly with Rotterdam, which he said did 10 times the trade of Irish ports. At least 200 additional customs officials were in place for the UK’s departure and the numbers could be “flexed up” if there was a hard Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said the Government would publish plans but planning occurred at two levels and most of it was from Brussels. “Any plan we would produce now would change again by January.”

He rejected renewed claims from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that the only effective Plan B in the event of a hard Brexit was to prepare for a border poll.

She had spoken on Wednesday night to British prime minister Theresa May and had told her that a referendum on unity would be prepared.

She said in the Dáil that if Britain ‘crashed out’ of the EU it would be “catastrophic” for Ireland and would rupture the social fabric and the peace agreement.

The Taoiseach said he understood Sinn Féin’s unity aspirations which most in the Dáil shared, but it was not the time to talk about border polls.

He repeated his call for Sinn Féin to take up their seats in Westminster and vote for the withdrawal agreement and for Ms McDonald to do what she could to get the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly up and running again.