Tánaiste’s Remarks, Withdrawal of the U.K from the European Union Bill 2019
Speech26 February 2019
Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union
(Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019
Second Stage - 26 February 2019 Tánaiste’s Opening Remarks
I move: ‘That the Bill be now read a Second Time’
Last Friday when the government published this no deal Brexit legislation I remarked that as a member of the Oireachtas for 21-years I found myself having the curious feeling of hoping that this was one law that would do no more than sit on the shelf of my office.
People knew what I meant by this - it is in part an expression of the overall sadness Ireland feels at the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, but also an expression of disbelief that the British government and parliament would allow the UK to leave the EU in a disorderly fashion.
Make no mistake such a result will be a lose, lose, lose for the people of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the European Union.
The Westminster parliament is the only place that can prevent this from happening. Westminster needs to make up its mind, collectively, about what it wants. Today’s debate at the House of Commons illustrates the fluidity of the situation and accordingly the need for us to be prepared for all eventualities.
Our history with Britain is deep and complicated but it has arrived at a position of parity, trust and close friendship where we are co-guarantors of peace on our islands.
The Irish and the British live together, study together, work together, marry each other and have families together. We understand each other’s sense of self and sense of humour.
In politics we agree on a lot more than we disagree on. Brexit must not be allowed to take any of this away from us.
Somewhere along the road, the Irish and the British outlook and politics related to the European Union diverted dramatically. We joined the EU together in 1973 and critics here claimed a small nation like Ireland would be assimilated - Instead we flourished.
As a TD representing the people of Cork I am proud to be Irish but I am also proud to be a European. I am proud of the European Union and what it has given our country and what we in turn have given the EU. I want my three daughters to have the freedom to travel in Europe, to perhaps study or work in another EU country and speak European languages. They will be no less Irish for doing so. Being Irish today is about being outward-looking, generous and European.
As an Irish politician I will face no backlash from the people who elected me for saying any of this, however too few politicians in the UK were able, or willing, to say such things when discussing whether or not to leave the EU.
That is something every member of this house must be wide awake to as the same inward looking political reversal is possible in all European Union countries. It would be complacent and naive to think otherwise.
Brexit has reenforced once again that the loudest agitators in politics, the ones that get the most media attention, often have the least understanding of the consequences at stake.
It is important for all of us who believe in the EU: government, opposition and those standing for public office, especially those standing in this year’s European election, to honestly communicate with the Irish people the ongoing privileges and advantages of our EU membership.
However much we wish, we’re not going to wake up to find the last two and a half years have been a bad dream. The UK is leaving the European Union and today we still don’t know how or under what conditions.
This poses unique and unprecedented challenges for Ireland.
The Government continues to work towards the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as a priority. We remain closely engaged with our EU partners, as well as maintaining ongoing contacts with the UK.
Discussions are ongoing in Brussels between the EU and the UK.
The EU has made it absolutely clear that it stands by the Withdrawal Agreement, and it is not open for renegotiation. However, the EU has, throughout this process, listened to British concerns. It will continue to do so.
Ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement will allow us to move on to start work on the agreement that will frame our future relationship. The withdrawal agreement gets us to that next phase in the best way possible.
I would again like to take the opportunity to state that the unity and common purpose of all of the parties here in the Dail to deal with this common challenge has been invaluable. I thank you for this facilitation and support.
Brexit will bring real changes for all of us. The Government has been working hard to ensure that Ireland is ready for the changes and challenges that Brexit brings. We continue to seek to mitigate, as far as possible, these impacts.
With the impending approach of the Brexit deadline, we have had no choice but to ramp up our no deal preparations.
The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill, which the Government has now laid before the Dáil, is a key part of that work. It covers, in primary legislation, the issues that need to be addressed immediately in the event of a no deal Brexit, ensuring that key measures and protections are in place. It focuses on protecting our citizens and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs, particularly in key economic sectors.
The Bill forms part of the extensive preparations that are underway across Government and across the EU. Our preparations include a range of measures such as the recruitment of customs and SPS officials, preparations at our ports and airports, and a range of financial and advisory supports for businesses to help them to prepare for Brexit.
Comprehensive, cross-Government preparations were set out in the Government’s Contingency Action Plan, published in December, and updated on 30 January. This work continues at both a national and EU level. All Departments have sector- specific plans in place. These address key challenges arising from a no deal Brexit, and associated mitigation efforts.
Our work at national level goes in tandem with the significant work underway across the EU to prepare for the UK’s possible departure without a deal on the 29 March.
At EU level, twelve separate legislative proposals have been made as part of Brexit contingency preparations. They range from aviation connectivity to road freight connectivity, from dual-use goods to fishing authorisations. Ireland has engaged on the detail of what is proposed at EU level on contingency to ensure that our concerns are reflected in proposals being taken forward at EU level.
Measures included in the Bill
Given the emergency nature of this legislation, the Government took the decision that progressing this through the Houses as an omnibus Bill was the most practical and sensible way to ensure that we have the necessary legislation enacted before 29 March.
The Bill contains 15 parts, addressing primary legislative issues which require immediate attention in a no deal scenario. These will be complemented by range of issues which will be addressed by statutory instrument before 29 March.
Primary legislative measures have been identified following a detailed screening by all Departments of legislation currently in force. The relevant Ministers will introduce their sections of the Bill and set out those measures under their remit in more detail.
However, I would like to give Deputies a brief overview.
Firstly, should the Withdrawal Agreement be ratified, this Bill will make provision in domestic law for a transition period during which EU rules and regulations will continue to apply to the UK, even though it will be formally a third country. This transition period effectively maintains the status quo up to December 2020. It will allow for the negotiation of an agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the
UK, and provide certainty to citizens and business, as we continue our preparations for the new relationship with UK outside the EU.
Common Travel Area
Protecting and maintaining the Common Travel Area and the associated rights and privileges is a key part of our planning and preparations. This is vital in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, as well as for broader Ireland-UK relations. The Bill, therefore, includes measures to underpin the Common Travel Area (CTA), to ensure that the associated rights and entitlements of Irish and British citizens under this longstanding arrangement, will continue in any circumstance.
In the area of health services, the Bill provides continuity for a range of existing healthcare arrangements between Ireland and the UK, once the UK leaves the EU. The Minister for Health will be provided with the power to make regulations in a number of matters, including to enable persons from Ireland to access healthcare in the UK. This seeks to ensure that insofar as possible there is minimum disruption to health services and that essential services are maintained on a cross-border, all-island, and Ireland-UK basis.
In the area of social protection, the Bill provides for the continued payment of a range of benefits, including old age pensions, illness benefits and child benefit. It ensures the recognition of contributions made when working in the UK, and access social insurance payments. It is important that we ensure a seamless transition and existing payments are protected and maintained. The Bill also provide protection for workers whose UK-based employer becomes insolvent.
In the area of higher education, the Bill protects the continued mobility of students under the Common Travel Area. It will allow for SUSI grants to be paid to eligible Irish students studying in the UK, as well as to UK students in Irish higher education institutions. This provides certainty for Irish students studying, or considering studying, in the UK, and for UK students in Ireland. These measures protect and enhance the long-standing excellent cooperation and collaboration between higher education systems in Ireland and the UK.
The Government is determined to maintain the strong cooperation with the UK in the area of law enforcement, particularly regarding Northern Ireland. The Bill includes provisions to ensure that justice and security cooperation with the UK, as a third country, can continue. It puts in place measures to apply the 1957 European Convention on Extradition to the UK. This will ensure workable extradition arrangements are in place between ourselves and the UK. It also makes amendments to the Immigration Acts, which might otherwise expose the State to the risk that removals would unsuccessful and undermine existing arrangements.
From the outset, the Government has made it a priority to minimise the impact of Brexit on North-South cooperation, and the all-island economy. The Bill address sectors where major challenges associated with a no deal Brexit have been identified, including all-island transport, and energy.
Provisions in transport will protect cross border bus services, ensuring continued service provision for passengers and commuters on the island of Ireland. This covers compatibility with EU rules that govern services between a member State and third country, on areas such as recognition of driver qualifications.
The Bill enables the Energy Regulator to address possible issues arising from a no deal Brexit, to maintain the operation of the Single Electricity Market.
The Bill also covers tax measures that seek to minimise the disruption to business operating cross-border in the immediate aftermath of a no deal Brexit. In relation to Capital Acquisition Tax the amendment provides continuity in existing treatment that landowners who operate cross-border will not be disadvantaged. On Corporation Tax, the amendment maintains the status quo for tax treatment of certain transaction or corporate group structures.
The Government, and the Commission, has paid particular attention to the impact of Brexit on Irish business in its contingency planning.
Businesses and other affected areas need to respond and prepare themselves, and the Government is providing an array of supports and information measures to assist them.
The Bill will now give Enterprise Ireland additional enabling power to further support businesses through widened investment, loans and RD&I grants. This is to further assist Irish businesses in remaining competitive and resilient in a no deal Brexit context. This will maximise our capacity to support businesses in the face of what could be a difficult transition.
The Bill also provides continuity for Financial Services, while the Irish market transitions to a new Central Securities Depository provider. Other measures provide for a temporary run-off regime to protect Irish policyholders from continuity issues with their insurance contracts in the event of a no deal Brexit.
Finally, the Bill includes provisions to introduce postponed accounting for VAT purposes in a no deal scenario. This will alleviate the impact of potential cash-flow burden faced by businesses post-Brexit. This is a practical measure which will support businesses, and was an issue highlighted by industry.
In the area on taxation I wish to inform the house that the Minister for Finance will be introducing two technical changes on taxation at committee stage next week.
How the Bill will Proceed
It is the Government’s intention that, following the second stage reading this week, the Bill will then go to Dáil Committee and Report Stage next week. It will then go to the Seanad for
Second Stage and Committee and Report Stage for the week of 11-14 March.
This timeline allows for commencement orders and other secondary legislation arising, numbering some 30 pieces, to be enacted in time for 29 March
Ministers have briefed Oireachtas Committees over the last 2 weeks, since the publication of the Heads of Bill, to discuss the proposed measures in their sectoral areas.
As the timelines are tight for the necessary enactment, the Government will work very closely with all Opposition parties in the Oireachtas and all members of the Dáil and Seanad in ensuring that the necessary no deal Brexit related legislation will be in place before the 29 March.
This legislation is an essential part of our whole-of-Government preparations for Brexit.
I appreciate the cooperation from all members in both Houses for their assistance and cooperation to ensure that we can get this Bill through the relevant stages and enact this legislation by 29 March.
The potential impact of a no deal Brexit on Ireland would be severe. Minister Donohoe recently outlined the potential macroeconomic impacts, and negative impacts that would be faced across a number of sectors. Our preparations, including through our legislative proposals, are focussed on minimising these impacts.
I have to reiterate, however, that managing a no deal Brexit is 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 the range of sectors which are, at the moment, facilitated by our common EU membership.
The Government is committed to working at a national level, as well as with our EU partners, to minimise impacts for our citizens and businesses as much as possible.
The Bill before you forms an important part of this work. It puts in place necessary measures for the application of transition period under the Withdrawal Agreement. It also provides continuity in key arrangements with the UK, notably in the context of the Common Travel Area. In doing so, it seeks to protect our citizens and support the economy, enterprise and jobs, in key economic sectors.
There will come a time - and I promise you all this - where the word ‘Brexit’ will no longer dominate the lense through which the British / Irish relationship is viewed
This government is determined to ensure that Britain and Ireland build new structures to build and maintain our strong and special relationship.
But I say it again, our future is European, it is incumbent on all of us here to ensure Ireland remains an active and committed member of the EU, and its Single Market and Customs Union.
There is no greater demonstration of the benefits of EU membership to a country like Ireland, than the unity and solidarity shown by our EU partners in the face of the UK’s withdrawal.