Dáil Statements on Brexit Readiness
Statement17 December 2020
Opening Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs
(Check against delivery)
As we find ourselves just two weeks away from a comprehensive and permanent change in the relationship between the EU and UK, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this evening
I promised to keep Members updated on Brexit developments and I think I have kept my word. This is the 18th “Brexit Statements” session I have taken in the Dáil or Seanad since mid-2017. In that period, the Government has also answered over 3,000 Brexit related PQs, and I have chaired over 20 meetings of the Brexit Stakeholder Forum, which many of you here this evening attend.
I will ask my colleague the Minister for European Affairs to give the House an update on where matters currently stand on the Future Relationship negotiations. We believe that with political will, there is a path to a deal, and welcome that the negotiating teams continue to make every effort to that end.
Before turning to our readiness, I would like to touch briefly on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol.
Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol
I would like to pay tribute to the work done by Maros Sefcovic, Michael Gove and their teams. The questions that arose in the context of implementing the Protocol were complex and sensitive. With significant implications for Ireland.
Following intensive engagement, the EU and UK have reached agreement on all issues related to the Protocol. Earlier today, the Joint Committee on Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement met to agree a number of decisions in relation to the operation of the Protocol.
The decisions taken address important issues, including the definition of goods deemed not to be at risk of entering the Single Market; the practical arrangements regarding the EU's presence in Northern Ireland when UK authorities implement checks and controls under the Protocol; and, the exemption of some agricultural and fish subsidies from State aid rules.
This clear and agreed approach has delivered stable solutions on a range of issues, including arrangements to protect the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland; to give supermarkets time to adjust and ensure supply chain resilience; and to minimise the level of checks needed where these are necessary. These assurances are of enormous importance to Northern Ireland traders, whether they are operating North-South or East-West.
It is also important to reiterate that, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, the Protocol means that the new customs and regulatory controls coming into force for east-west trade will not apply to trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is a significant achievement, reflecting a key priority set by the Irish government at the outset of the Brexit negotiations. It’s a very positive outcome for Ireland.
It is now over four years since the UK voted to leave the EU and the Government began in earnest to prepare for the changes coming our way.
Over this time, our approach has been agile and adaptive. We have reviewed and refined our work as the changing circumstances required. In May this year, as it became clear that the transition period would not be extended, the Government intensified our readiness work to prepare for a very limited deal, or a no deal outcome.
We set all of the relevant issues out in September’s Brexit Readiness Action Plan. This is a valuable source of information and support for citizens and businesses.
With a weather eye to what is ahead, Budget 2021 allocates unprecedented resources to confronting the twin challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit. €340 million is allocated in the budget for Brexit-related supports.
The Government will also establish a €3.4 billion Recovery Fund to stimulate increased domestic demand and employment, in response to COVID-19 and Brexit.
Brexit brings many changes, but the most immediate and challenging arise from the UK leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. In simple terms, this means that the seamless trade we enjoy today with the UK today will end in two weeks’ time.
All businesses, big and small, will be affected. And, if they don’t prepare now, their trade will be disrupted, deliveries will be delayed, and customers will lost.
My colleague Minister Byrne will update in more detail on our stakeholder engagement and on the significant work that has gone into ensuring our ports and airports are ready.
We have engaged extensively with sectors, provided supports, and will continue to work with all businesses and stakeholders in the remaining weeks and post-transition. However, I am concerned that many businesses, particularly the SME sector, are not fully prepared.
I cannot stress enough that there is no outcome of the talks that will stop the introduction of new customs and regulatory regimes. The issue is not under negotiation, as the UK have decided their best interests lie outside the Single Market and Customs Union.
If the EU and UK fail to reach a deal, a broader set of challenges arise. These include tariffs and quotas, and the loss of access for Irish fishing boats to UK waters. Furthermore, the absence of a data adequacy decision would impact every public authority, and business, that exchanges data with the UK.
Plans to manage issues that arise in the immediate “Day One Week One” period and beyond are being finalised. Revenue, Agriculture and the HSE will have 24-hour operations in Dublin Port. A range of call centres and advice lines will be available to traders and citizens. Our embassies abroad will be monitoring developments across the UK and EU. The Senior Officials Group on Brexit Readiness will meet throughout the period and will provide central oversight and coordination of these operations.
The Government has done its homework and is as prepared as it can be.
However, even with all the work undertaken by Government, business and citizens, there will be major disruption.
I am just being honest. It is simply not possible to mitigate against every risk - there is no silver bullet.
A number of these changes will be outside our control. And we need to recognise this reality. Some changes will be very obvious to consumers.
For example, the increased cost of meeting the new requirements may lead certain companies deciding to no longer service the Irish market. While our shelves will not be empty, it is possible some of our favourite brands may no longer be available.
Additionally, there remains a lack of clarity in respect of elements of the UK’s preparations which impacts our ability to finalise our planning.
Even before Brexit, we are seeing delays in Dover and Calais.
We anticipate that there will be delays and potential disruption in Irish ports as operators adjust to the new systems of checks.
We have no intention of undertaking unnecessary checks or delaying goods for no reason. Our approach at our ports has the twin aim of ensuring trade can flow to the greatest extent possible while maintaining food safety, public health and our obligations to the Single Market.
We all understand the importance of the Single Market to Ireland’s economy. It is the mechanism by which our goods move freely, without customs formalities and regulatory checks, and why we have seamless access to a market of 450 million people. In return for this access, we have obligations to protect it.
We will do everything possible to minimise delays but everyone has a part to play.
I look forward to hearing the views of the Members.