The Irish Times view on a no-deal Brexit: the worst-case scenario looms into view

The impact on the food and drink industry would be severe, and some products would be in short supply in Irish supermarkets

Opposition leaders have criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for failing to come up with detailed Brexit contingency plans before now. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The dramatic political developments in Westminster over the past two days have brought the prospect of a no-deal Brexit into sharp relief. Unless the House of Commons comes up with a viable deal, the United Kingdom will crash out of the European Union on March 29th with potentially devastating consequences for this State.

Although there has been a lot of discussion over the past year and more about the potential downside of a hard Brexit, the full impact of such a development on every aspect of Irish life is only now beginning to enter the public consciousness.

There has been a considerable focus on the impact on exporters, hauliers, farmers and fishermen but, in fact, every person living on the island will feel the effects of a no-deal Brexit in their daily lives, whether through a shortage of products in the shops or travel through ports and airports.

The Opposition leaders yesterday criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for failing to come up with detailed contingency plans before now but, in truth, Government – as well as business – had difficult calls to make about investing substantial resources in preparing for an eventuality that might never happen and hopefully still won't.


Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that the Government was now implementing plans for a no-deal Brexit, including checks at airports and ports, and they were no longer simply contingency plans. While a detailed Government plan to mitigate the consequences of a no-deal Brexit is required as a matter of urgency there is no avoiding the fact that this State cannot escape severe damage if the UK exits the EU without a deal.

The impact on the food and drink industry, which exports 40 per cent of its output to the UK, will be severe. Serious efforts at diversification to EU markets have been underway over the past 12 months but restrictions on exports to our biggest market will have inevitable consequences for production and jobs. The haulage sector will face enormous problems not simply in trade with the UK but in transit across the UK to EU markets. The fishing industry will also be badly hit.

There are likely to be severe restrictions, at least for a while, on the availability of standard products in Irish supermarkets. A sample of the kind of likely disruption was provided by the heavy snow which hit the State for a few days last March. The huge gaps on supermarket shelves showed how quickly the disruption of carefully balanced supply chains to and from the UK could impact on everyday life.

There are also worries about the supply of medicines. Although many standard drugs can be stockpiled to withstand the disruptive impact of changes in trade arrangements, some essential treatments cannot. The bottom line is that a no-deal outcome will be disastrous for Ireland as well as the UK. Hopefully it can still be avoided.