Thursday 27 July 2017

'Token Brexit plan based on 6pc rise in value of sterling'

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, views the famous Dutch 17th century painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer during her visit to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. She was making her first solo official trip abroad as part of a British charm offensive after the Brexit vote. AFP/Getty Images
Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, views the famous Dutch 17th century painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer during her visit to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. She was making her first solo official trip abroad as part of a British charm offensive after the Brexit vote. AFP/Getty Images
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Budget offered a "weak and directionless" response to Brexit that makes the Government look foolish, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said.

In his strongest attack on the Budget, which his party will allow pass through the Dáil, Mr Martin claimed that most of the 'Brexit-proofing' measures announced on Tuesday would have happened anyway.

And he called for the establishment of a 'Currency Crisis Package' to help business combat the impact of the weak sterling.

The Department of Finance has based its Brexit plan on the assumption that a euro will be worth 85 pence next year - but the exchange rate this week has already seen it hit 91p.

"The Taoiseach is betting or assuming that sterling will strengthen by more than 6% next year. It seems to me an extraordinary bet or gamble to make," Mr Martin said.

He said the Budget should have included a number of "specific scenarios for the impact of Brexit" but instead was full of "tokenism".

Mr Martin made the allegations just before Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the European Commission's Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier to Government Buildings.

The Taoiseach said Mr Barnier has "a strong appreciation of our close historical, political and economic ties with the UK, and also knows of our strong commitment to EU membership". During their meeting, Mr Kenny emphasised "Ireland's unique set of priorities with regard to Brexit", especially in relation to Northern Ireland and the Common Travel Area.

Read more: 'A very foolish gamble' - Micheál Martin says Budget was 'empty on Brexit'

Mr Barnier also held talks with the Tánaiste France Fitzgerald, Minister for European Affairs Dara Murphy, and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

In the Dáil, Mr Kenny described the situation as "quite fluid" until the UK Prime Minister moves on Article 50, thereby formally requesting Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

"This is probably the greatest economic challenge facing not just Ireland but the EU in the last 50 years.

"The decision made by the electorate in the UK has brought about a situation of confusion, lack of certainty, great concern, anxiety and currency fluctuation that is impacting on business here and elsewhere," he said.

Among the Brexit measures announced in the Budget were 50 new people for Enterprise Ireland, a credit scheme for farmers and the retention of the special 9pc VAT for the tourism sector. Notably, the Department of Foreign Affairs has not received any extra fund.

Mr Martin said: "Brexit demands and requires further action. The list we received yesterday was very disingenuous.

"There was expansion of some issues already in previous budgets, but it was in no shape or form a coherent response to Brexit."

Meanwhile, Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor has come under fire from her party colleagues for the Government's response to Brexit and her jobs strategy.

Fine Gael backbenchers criticised the minister at a private meeting where she and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar gave a briefing on the Budget.

Sources say Ms Mitchell O'Connor looked stunned by attacks from Sligo TD Tony McLoughlin and Clare TD Joe Carey. One TD described the exchanges as "fiery and frank".

Irish Independent

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