Simon Coveney: Irish preparations for no-deal Brexit to accelerate
Increasing unpredictability in London means planning for no-deal scenario will now be prioritised
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “The collective strength of the EU and the stability and solidarity that is at the heart of our EU membership will be the most important contingency we have after Brexit.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Yesterday I updated the Cabinet on the political situation around Brexit based on political developments and our diplomatic meetings in Brussels and London. Our teams in Dublin, London and Brussels, as well as across Europe, have been doing a sustained and unparalleled job on behalf of the Irish people on Brexit. They are working on it night and day, seven days a week. As well as that ongoing work, I updated Cabinet on contingency planning for Brexit across all Government departments.
Despite the European Union and the United Kingdom having settled a Withdrawal Agreement, the political situation in London is increasingly unpredictable. We still hope for a sensible Brexit based on this hard-won deal, which was agreed by the UK Cabinet and 27 member states at the European Council. It includes compromises from both sides. However, we cannot take the UK ratifying it as a given and so have to continue to plan and prepare for a disorderly Brexit.
Let me be clear: a no-deal Brexit will bring major challenges across Europe, and particularly in Ireland
The Cabinet therefore yesterday mandated that all Government departments must give full priority to activating their plans for a no deal or disorderly Brexit.
Since July the Cabinet has been approving measures to go from planning to implementation under two scenarios. The first is the “central-case scenario” which is built on a withdrawal deal being finally ratified and including a transition period. The second scenario is the no-deal scenario, with changes coming into effect on March 30th next.
Let me be clear: a no-deal Brexit will bring major challenges across Europe, and particularly in Ireland. And the collective strength of the EU and the stability and solidarity that is at the heart of our EU membership will be the most important contingency we have after Brexit.
Our planning for the no-deal scenario builds on the work already undertaken under the central-case planning and will now take priority across Government.
When it comes to no deal, there isn’t one “Holy Grail” document containing everything – there are a multitude of documents in a range of different areas. No-deal planning has been ongoing for more than a year across departments, coordinated by my department. It impacts nearly everything we do on Brexit.
In terms of moving to implementation of no-deal planning, it will become “Topic A” across the whole of Government and will be the priority of every Minister and secretary general.
All departments have already examined the legislation that will be required for no deal. Priority will be attached in the new year to giving this legislation Dáil and Seanad time. Political support across the Dáil will be necessary to do this. Some measures have to be kept confidential at this stage in the national interest. But, as we have said before, we are not planning for the return of any hard border on this island.
The EU will need to take action, the Government will need to take action, but importantly businesses will need to take action too
Contingency in every EU country falls into two broad categories. Firstly, the action we have to take domestically. Secondly, the collective action that will be taken by the European Commission. This latter work is well advanced with more than 70 papers published to date – including, for example, the very detailed paper on commission no-deal plans in areas such as aviation, which was published on November 13th. Our team has participated in nine expert-level seminars to date on what member states will need to do in the case of no deal. That work will intensify in the coming weeks.
Many other decisions are now becoming visual. Domestic decisions like the hiring of customs officers, veterinarians and food-safety inspectors for our ports and airports will now be accelerated. A large panel of 3,000 people have already applied for the customs positions alone, which is many times the eventual number we will need. The work on infrastructure and IT for ports and airports is also advanced.
As detailed above, the EU will need to take action, the Government will need to take action, but importantly businesses will need to take action too. Many already have.
In October and November I met thousands of businesses at our “Getting Ireland Brexit Ready” roadshows in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Dublin, Letterkenny and Monaghan. I have since received statistics from Enterprise Ireland showing a 92 per cent increase in Brexit scorecard completions, as well as a 62 per cent increase in interactions on its website off the back of these and other events. Similarly, Fáilte Ireland has recorded an upward trend of 83 per cent on its “Brexit Ready” diagnostic tools
Tens of millions of euro are still available in grants from InterTrade Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and I would encourage those who have not done so already to apply for them now. The new year will also see the €5 million announced by Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys for a customs-training programme being rolled out through Local Enterprise Offices nationwide.
While it is prudent to take this course of action on no-deal measures, the goal of the Government and the EU will be Brexit with a deal. There are just over 15 weeks to go and the Taoiseach has shown time and again that our Government can hold firm on protecting Ireland at every key juncture. The Withdrawal Agreement would not have been reached without that approach and all of our effort will be on a sensible and well-managed Brexit whatever the days and weeks ahead throw up.
Simon Coveney is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade