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Statement by the Tánaiste on the Government’s Brexit Preparedness

A Cheann Comhairle,

This has been a critical week for the Brexit process in the UK.  The Government regrets the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons on the Withdrawal Agreement, though it was not unexpected.

A no deal Brexit would be deeply damaging for the UK, Ireland and the EU.  This is increasingly recognised within the UK, including in Parliament.  However, it is important that we do not assume that it will inevitably be avoided. 

As President Juncker stated after the vote, what we need from the UK is clarity on how it proposes to move forward, and ultimately what it wants to achieve.  The EU will then consider how to respond.

The EU has already addressed the issues raised by Prime Minister May in the aftermath of the postponed vote in December.  The European Council in December, and the joint letter from Presidents Tusk and Juncker earlier this week, provided important clarifications and reassurances, including with regard to the backstop.

The EU will continue to seek to be as helpful as possible, but as the European Council made clear in December, the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation.

The backstop is an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement.  It acts as an insurance policy, to ensure that there is no hard border on this island following Brexit. It is essential.

Throughout the negotiations, there has been a strong understanding, by our EU partners, of the need to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. Their support remains firm and unequivocal. The EU has repeatedly said, and Michel Barnier was crystal clear on this in the European Parliament yesterday, that there can be no Withdrawal Agreement without the backstop.

This has also been repeatedly recognised by the UK Government which has always recognised its own obligations under the Good Friday Agreement

For Ireland and the EU, a close and deep future relationship with the UK is key. This remains our preferred means of ensuring we never need to use the backstop. It will also allow us to continue our broad and multi-faceted relationship with the UK in the new environment that Brexit will bring. 

And while the Withdrawal Agreement is not for renegotiation, in the context of the future relationship, the EU has consistently said that if the UK choses to shift its red lines on leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market, and opts for a more ambitious relationship beyond a basic Free Trade Agreement, the EU would be happy to evolve its position.

While our focus remains on securing an orderly and agreed Brexit, given the uncertainty in London, and the increased risks of a no deal Brexit, the Government will continue to intensify our preparations for such an outcome.

Our number one protection from whatever Brexit brings will be our status as a Member State of the EU, with all the stability, predictability and solidarity that brings.

On the 19th of December, the Government published our Contingency Action Plan which outlines our approach to no deal Brexit planning.

Brexit of any kind will mean change.  Managing a no deal Brexit would be an exercise in damage limitation. It would be impossible in a no deal scenario to maintain the current seamless arrangements between the EU and UK across a full range of sectors, which is currently facilitated by our common EU membership. 

The Government has been planning for Brexit since before the UK referendum, and we have taken a number of key decisions to accelerate our Brexit preparations. These plans have been developed on a whole-of-Government basis, coordinated by my Department in close collaboration with the Department of the Taoiseach.

We outlined our approach to legislative changes required in the no deal Contingency Action Plan on 19 December. Considerable work has continued to refine and develop this work. 

On Tuesday, the Cabinet approved the drafting of the Heads of one omnibus Bill which will contain the legislative measures necessary to prepare domestically for the immediate impacts of Brexit.

This week’s decision follows from a series of Government decisions since July to advance various preparations for Brexit.

One of our main priorities is to ensure that East-West trade flows continue to function in both directions. To support this, we have sanctioned staffing, ICT and infrastructural measures for our ports and airports.

Ultimately we estimate that we will need just over 1,000 staff to implement additional customs and SPS checks in both a central case scenario and in a no deal scenario. Phase one of this recruitment has been sanctioned and is well underway. Emergency measures including redeployment and the use of internal panels will be actioned in a no deal scenario to ensure that the necessary human resources are in place to implement checks.

In collaboration with the relevant stakeholders and the other Departments involved, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are progressing infrastructure plans for our ports and airports.

Recognising the challenges that Brexit will create, Government has put in place a range of supports across Budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019 to help businesses to prepare for Brexit. In addition to financial supports, departments and agencies have engaged in extensive outreach which have formed part of the ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ campaign. This outreach to key sectors and the public will be further stepped up in the coming weeks.

To comply with the timings of this session, I will further brief the House on our contingency work during our questions and answers session, and in my closing remarks.

Ceann Comhairle, in concluding for now, can I reiterate that no future relationship between the EU and UK will be as good as the status quo. However, we will work to minimise the disruption for our businesses and citizens as much as possible and I am grateful for the support of this House in that effort.


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