On Wednesday next week the Cabinet will meet in Kerry and as the Minister with special responsibility for Brexit I will be bringing a memo to colleagues on Ireland's preparedness for the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union.
Although Brexit has been one of the most talked-about subjects in Ireland for more than three years now, it hasn’t actually happened yet. However, we are almost two-thirds of the way through the negotiations and in a little over eight months, on March 29th, 2019, the UK will formally leave the EU.
We need to recognise that this is happening – the UK is leaving the EU and some things are going to change.
We know what some of this change looks like and we are planning for it. We must remember, however, that negotiations are still ongoing and this means that we don’t know exactly what change Brexit will bring in all areas. This is why achieving the best possible outcome for Ireland in the negotiations remains a central part of our strategic response to Brexit and is vital in our efforts to minimise the impact on our economy.
We are planning for the best but preparing for all scenarios.
The memo I will bring to Cabinet next week is about being ready for the change that is coming. We are particularly focused on the areas where the Government has direct responsibility and on measures that need to be taken on an east-west basis, such as customs and veterinary controls at ports and airports.
Other changes will be tackled on an EU-wide basis. There are a whole range of areas which will continue to be covered by EU rules and regulations. The UK has chosen to walk away from the certainty and clarity that this comprehensive EU framework provides but we will continue to benefit from the stability of our EU membership.
EU membership has been good for Ireland and we will face any challenges that Brexit brings with the full support of our EU partners.
As a responsible Government we have been preparing for different types of Brexit and we will continue planning for the unlikely case of a “no deal” Brexit. Different scenarios trigger different responses and some of our “no deal” planning will have to remain confidential for now, given that negotiations are ongoing.
The stepping up of our preparedness work is likely to become more visible from now on
It’s important to be clear that the detailed work that I will be presenting to my Cabinet colleagues is not the beginning of our preparations. A huge amount of work has been under way across Government and its agencies since before the UK even voted to leave the EU.
The Government has, for example, already put significant financial supports in place. These include additional funds such as the €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme for business and a separate €150 million low-cost loan scheme for agribusiness. A range of practical supports are also available, such as the Enterprise Ireland Brexit Scorecard and 'Be Prepared' grant of up to €5,000. I would strongly encourage all businesses, and especially those trading with the UK, to avail of these supports.
We've also been proactive in getting information on Brexit to Irish citizens, businesses and representative bodies. Activities in this area include the All-Island Civic Dialogue meetings and Brexit advisory clinics and road shows around the country such as those organised by Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices, Bord Bia, Intertrade Ireland and Fáilte Ireland.
Every Minister in the Cabinet is working on Brexit to make sure that Ireland is ready for whatever it brings our way. I want people to rest assured that preparations are going on each and every day in Government. This work will continue ahead of any budgetary decisions that may be needed later this year. Our teams have diligently planned but the week ahead will be about the Cabinet moving this contingency planning to an implementation stage.
That means the stepping up of our preparedness work is likely to become more visible from now on. This should not be interpreted as a reflection on the state of play in the negotiations or in any way prejudging the outcome.
Dedicated negotiations on Ireland and Northern Ireland are continuing. This includes work on the backstop, which remains essential for providing certainty that in any circumstances, and no matter what the outcome of the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship, a hard border will be avoided.
The need to avoid a hard Border is something where we have total agreement – from the UK, Ireland and the EU. The peace that the Belfast Agreement has brought to this island is something that we will fiercely protect.
The last few days saw a step forward with Britain publishing a clear negotiating position allowing Brexit negotiations resume in Brussels between the EU taskforce and UK negotiators next week.
Those talks deserve every chance, and all our support, to succeed.
Simon Coveney is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs