Minister Coveney opening remarks to Joint Committee on EU Affairs
Press release07 October 2020
At the outset let me congratulate you on your appointment as Chair of the Committee and wish you and all the Members well. I look forward to working with you all as we prepare for the end of the transition period and the substantial and permanent changes that will arise in the EU-UK relationship in less than 90 days - on 1 January, 2021.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear this morning.
I have been asked to keep my opening remarks brief. However before turning to the readiness legislation, I would like to say that Ireland remains actively engaged in the ongoing negotiations and the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. I speak regularly with Michel Barnier and Vice President Sefcovic. Both are well versed in Irish priorities, and know that Ireland fully supports their work.
Ireland wants the closest possible future EU – UK relationship. However, we must be prepared, and plan for, a more limited outcome.
Since the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed, we have worked to refine and recalibrate our readiness measures for the end of the transition period. This requires us to consider the immediate challenges, and the long term permanent changes to current arrangements.
Government preparedness is well advanced. We published our latest Readiness Action Plan on 9 September. The Plan supports and promotes the necessary preparations that Government, business and citizens must make for the substantial and enduring changes that will arise in less than 90 days.
We know that, regardless of the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations, the way in which we trade with Great Britain will change substantially and permanently. Business will face checks and controls that many have never had to deal with before. Preparations are also ongoing in key areas such as transport, energy, data exchanges and police and judicial cooperation.
To address a number of these challenges, primary legislation is again required. I believe an omnibus bill is the most effective way to address this broad range of issues. To this end, the Government published the scheme of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020 on 9 September.
Members will recall the Brexit Omnibus Act, passed in March 2019. While there is considerable overlap, a key difference between the 2019 Act and 2020 Bill is that the 2019 Act provided contingency measures to address a no deal cliff-edge scenario – which in the end did not materialise. The 2020 version will deal with the range of complex immediate and permanent changes that arise at the end of the transition period.
It seeks to protect citizens and consumers, facilitate the sound functioning of key sectors, and ensure our businesses are not disadvantaged. It will also support aspects of the Common Travel Area and North/South cooperation.
The Bill consists of 21 Parts under the remit of 11 Ministers – the Tánaiste, myself and the Ministers responsible for Health, Environment, Higher Education, Finance, Transport, Social Protection, Justice, Children, and Housing.
As in 2019, I am the lead Minister for this complex piece of legislation responsible for coordinating its overall progress. In addition, I am specifically responsible for Part One which covers preliminary and general matters
Good progress is being made between Departments and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on completing the draft Bill, which will be considered by Cabinet shortly.
I expect the Bill will come before the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.
The range of Ministers involved highlights quite starkly the effect Brexit will have on our country. In order to provide certainty for our businesses and citizens, I look forward to working with you on ensuring its swift progress through the Houses.
I am happy to take any questions.