Thursday 8 December 2016

Brexit unknowns make contingency planning difficult for Government

Departments and agencies have indentifed risks, but no fully worked contingency plan is in place, writes Colm Kelpie

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

Vote Leave supporters wait for London Mayor Boris Johnson to address campaigners during a rally in Manchester. There have been no discussions between Dublin and London about the possibility of a carve-out deal if Britain decides to leave the EU. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Vote Leave supporters wait for London Mayor Boris Johnson to address campaigners during a rally in Manchester. There have been no discussions between Dublin and London about the possibility of a carve-out deal if Britain decides to leave the EU. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Ireland has not devised a fully worked contingency plan for a British withdrawal from the European Union (EU) because there are too many unknowns, the Sunday Independent understands.

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While officials across key departments have identified the issues that would likely be affected, it's understood that any attempt to mitigate the fallout of a possible Brexit on Ireland would only be taken during the two-year negotiation period that would follow a vote to pull out, because of the complexity of a UK departure and the fact that negotiations will be done on a pan-European Union basis.

And there's a belief in Government that any attempt to carve out a special deal for Ireland in terms of trade or the border with Northern Ireland would prove difficult, largely because it would require the backing of other EU member states.

It is understood that internal consideration has been given by officials in a range of key departments to the issues and risks that would need to be dealt with during the two-year negotiation period after a vote to leave, while a special unit was set up in the Department of the Taoiseach last year to lead on the issue. The potential economic impact has been fleshed out by both the NTMA and the ESRI.

The big issues include the impact on trade and the wider economy, the border with Northern Ireland, the common travel area, cross-border infrastructural funding, the Peace Process, Irish citizens living in the UK, social welfare reciprocation and the energy implications and costs in terms of Ireland's interconnection with the UK.

But there is no fully worked contingency plan because there is no clear picture yet of what a withdrawal, if it were to happen, would look like.

And there is a feeling at official level that, while departments and agencies have been assessing the risks, there is a limit to the extent to which a defensive strategy can be put in place at this stage.

The Sunday Independent understands that while talks take place frequently between the Irish and British governments, there have been no discussions between Dublin and London about the possibility of a carve-out deal. Any special deal for Ireland will prove difficult because negotiations in the event of a Brexit will be done at a pan-European level, although officials are sure to focus their efforts on the border issue in particular.

There is a belief in official circles that cutting any special deal for Ireland would prove extremely difficult, unless Ireland can make a case for such a carve-out to its European partners.

In an address to the Association of European Journalists in Dublin on Friday, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said the Government needs to put in place a proper contingency plan.

"I am not convinced that there is enough contingency planning being done at government level on the Brexit referendum. There is an urgent need to put in place a stable government to prepare for the real prospect of Britain leaving the EU," he said.

He questioned whether Ireland could remain in the EU if Britain left.

"This is not some academic question. It will have to be faced in a post-Brexit environment. I'm satisfied that we could and should remain in the EU without Britain. But most definitely we would need a new agreement with the EU, post-Brexit. We would also need a new agreement with the UK."

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