Tánaiste’s Opening Remarks Contingency Action Plan Update
Speech11 July 2019
Brexit represents a unique and unprecedented challenge for Ireland.
Three months since the European Council extended the Brexit deadline to 31 October, we still don’t know how or under what conditions UK will leave the European Union.
It is hard for any of us to believe that the British government and Parliament would allow the UK to leave without a deal. Such a decision would have profound political and economic implications, for the UK, including most significantly Northern Ireland, as well as for Ireland and the EU.
Given events in London, however, a no deal Brexit on 31 October is an ever more significant risk, a risk the Government takes extremely seriously.
No deal means the UK will fall outside the Single Market and the Customs Union, with no trade or cooperation agreements in place with the EU, and no transition period.
It will be impossible for the UK to maintain the current seamless arrangements with the EU across the full range of sectors, from justice and security cooperation, to transport connectivity, to trade flows and supply chains.
This has significant implications for us, as Minister Donohoe set out in the Summer Economic Statement, in terms of lower growth, increased unemployment, impact on our exporting sectors, including agri-food, indigenous manufacturing and tourism.
Extensive measures were put in place for a no deal Brexit in advance of the 29 March and 12 April deadlines. The extra time to end-October is an opportunity to strengthen, refine and refresh those preparations where appropriate.
No deal Brexit preparations continue to have the highest priority across Government.
Contingency Action Plan
The Brexit Contingency Action Plan which the Government laid before the Oireachtas on Tuesday reflects this extensive work, both on a whole-of-Government basis, and at EU level, and sets out the steps to be taken between now and 31 October. It follows on the Government Contingency Action Plan published in December, and updated on 30 January.
The Action Plan does not seek to pull its punches, but lays out clearly the work done and the significant risks to Ireland in the event of a no deal Brexit.
To be clear - we cannot fully mitigate against the impacts of a no deal Brexit. The Action Plan shows that while extensive preparedness work has taken place, the impacts of a no deal Brexit will still be profound. This is an exercise in damage limitation, and Brexit will still pose serious challenges to many sectors and areas of economic and social life.
It is only by Government, business and citizens working together nationally, and with our EU partners that we can aim to mitigate as far as possible the impacts of a no deal Brexit, and ensure that we are as prepared as we can be for the changes it will bring.
The Action Plan lays out the substantial work done in advance of the 29 March and 12 April Brexit dates. This includes passage of the ‘Brexit Omnibus Act’, signed into law by the President on 17 March.
I would like to thank this House again for the cooperation and support in ensuring this critical piece of legislation was put in place in a timely fashion.
We have put in place sufficient infrastructure to manage the necessary checks and controls on East-West trade at our ports and airports. This has seen some 400 additional Revenue staff, nearly 190 staff from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and 59 additional HSE staff trained and in place.
The high level MOU on the Common Travel Area, I signed with David Lidington, on 8 May, protects the right of Irish and British citizens to travel freely, move to live, work and study, and access healthcare and social benefits.
In the time left to 31 October, the Action Plan emphasises, in particular, the need for exposed businesses to step up preparedness.
While a no deal Brexit was averted in March and April, citizens and businesses cannot assume that the same will happen in October – this would be a dangerous assumption. The need for preparations is more pressing than ever.
Government Brexit communications will, therefore, include a call to action to businesses operating in exposed sectors to take the necessary steps to prepare for a no deal Brexit, including an intensified engagement programme by Revenue.
At the same time, we will continue on providing further additional infrastructure at ports and airports to enhance our capacity to manage the necessary checks and controls on goods coming from the UK as smoothly as possible.
We will also continue work with the EU, the UK and partners on securing the ‘landbridge’ connection through the UK.
To meet our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, we are also advancing work on access to Erasmus+ and the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Prudent economic planning, and building the resilience of the economy, has been a key part of our preparations, with the provision of supports to help businesses and other affected sectors to prepare. This will continue as we prepare Budget 2020, including making provision for targeted funding for the sectors most affected in the event of a no deal Brexit.
In dealing with Brexit, we do not stand alone, but are working in close cooperation with our EU partners.
Work at the EU-level has been set out in five European Commission Communications, the latest of which was published on 12 June, as well more than 90 Brexit preparedness notices. In the lead up to the 29 March deadline, the European Union adopted 18 primary legislative measures on a unilateral temporary basis to mitigate the worst effects of a no deal Brexit. A number of these are in key areas for Ireland including air connectivity and road haulage access, as well as maintaining PEACE/INTERREG funding.
The Commission is committed to supporting Ireland in addressing the specific challenges of Irish businesses, and we will continue our engagement with Member States and the Commission, on key outstanding issues, including on potential supports for Ireland and affected sectors.
The risks of a no deal Brexit are most acute regarding its possible impact on Northern Ireland, North-South relations and the Good Friday Agreement.
A no deal Brexit risks significantly undermining wider community relations and political stability in Northern Ireland with potential related security concerns.
The impact of tariffs, and of the customs and SPS requirements and associated checks necessary to preserve Ireland’s full participation in the Single Market and Customs Union, would impact significantly on the all-island economy, with additional costs and disruption for businesses throughout the island, particularly those in Northern Ireland.
This is why the commitment of the Government throughout the Brexit process to preventing the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland remains of the highest priority.
Those objectives were delivered by the Withdrawal Agreement. With the backstop, it remains the only solution currently on the table that delivers the outcomes that everyone including the UK wants to achieve.
It is very important that we in Ireland remain clear and consistent on the need for the backstop, which has come under sustained attack during the course of the Tory leadership contest. We can continue to rely on the solidarity and unity of our EU partners.
In the absence of the Withdrawal Agreement, there are no easy solutions.
The Government is working closely with the European Commission to meet the shared twin objectives of protecting the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it, and avoiding a hard order, including physical infrastructure. This work is looking at necessary checks to preserve Ireland’s full participation in the Single Market and Customs Union. However, any arrangement will be clearly sub-optimal.
The Government’s overall objectives have been consistent from the start. We have worked to minimise the impact on trade and the economy, protect the peace process including avoiding a hard border, protecting the all island economy, maintain the Common Travel Area, and reinforce our commitment to and participation in the EU. These continue to guide our approach in any Brexit scenario, as the Action Plan maps out.
A no deal Brexit will have profound implications for Ireland on all levels. Addressing those challenges requires difficult and significant choices of a practical, strategic and political nature.
It is only by Government, business and citizens working together, as well as with our partners in the EU, that we can aim to mitigate as far as possible the severe impacts of a no deal Brexit and ensure that we are as prepared as we can be for the changes it will bring.
The unity and common purpose of all of the parties here in the Dáil to deal with this common challenge has been invaluable, and I thank you for this facilitation and support.
We wait to see who the new UK Prime Minister will be. We will work constructively with them, but a change of Prime Minister will not change the facts of Brexit. The European Council has made it consistently clear that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, cannot be opened or renegotiated.
Ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement is the best, and only, way to ensure an orderly withdrawal, while protecting the Good Friday Agreement, and to move on to start work on the agreement that will frame our future relationship.
The responsibility for avoiding a no deal outcome lies firmly with the UK. It is vital that the UK, and the new Prime Minister, uses the time up to 31 October to find a realistic way forward.
As we head towards 31 October, the Government will continue to work to strengthen the resilience of the economy and to prepare our country for Brexit. We will build on the extensive contingency work already completed, focusing on the further steps identified in this Action Plan. We will do so as a strong and committed member of the EU and with the solidarity and support of our EU partners.