Saturday 20 July 2019

Back my Brexit deal or speed up a united Ireland, May warns

New laws on hold in Dáil to focus on emergency legislation

Endgame: UK Prime Minister Theresa May gives a speech at a factory in Stoke. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Endgame: UK Prime Minister Theresa May gives a speech at a factory in Stoke. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Ministers will today agree to essentially freeze work on all new laws as they bid to get ahead of a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

Just six pieces of non-Brexit related legislation have made it to the Government's priority list for the new term, the Irish Independent understands.

This is an acknowledgement that British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a crushing defeat when the Withdrawal Agreement is put to a vote in the House of Commons today.

In a last-ditch bid to win support for the deal, Mrs May warned a no-deal Brexit would make a united Ireland, Scottish independence and the break-up of the UK more likely.

"And to those who think we should reject this deal in favour of no deal, because we cannot get every assurance we want, I ask what would a no-deal Brexit do to strengthen the hand of those campaigning for Scottish independence - or indeed those demanding a border poll in Northern Ireland? Surely this is the real threat to our union," she said.

But her career is now on the line yet again as the Labour Party prepares to table a no-confidence motion in her government.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael think in last night. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael think in last night. Photo: Frank McGrath

The Government will today discuss "one of the biggest pieces of legislation" ever produced in this country.

A decision will be taken to severely curtail all new legislative plans. Among the tiny number of exceptions will be bills to allow for referendums on divorce and granting votes to Irish citizens overseas next May.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also confirmed to the Irish Independent last night that legislation to establish a tribunal as an alternative to court for women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal will be prioritised in the weeks ahead.

The current plan is to build an agenda based around Brexit until the end of March. The outlook beyond that is uncertain.

Mr Kyne indicated ministers would have to accept that individual plans within their departments will have to be sidelined in order to facilitate Brexit contingencies.

"Other legislation will not be possible except some bills that are perhaps very near final drafting," he said.

The plan is to have a "single omnibus bill" which will cover all the legislative aspects required for Brexit.

Mr Varadkar insisted yesterday that a no-deal Brexit remains "unlikely" but admitted "we need to be prepared for it nonetheless".

"I shouldn't pretend to anyone that any country can be fully prepared for Brexit, there is no good Brexit and a no-deal Brexit will have a very significant impact on Ireland, Britain and Europe.

"We will be prepared, but I'm not going to say to you that everything is going to be fine, of course there will be interruptions and negative impact but we'll be as prepared as we possibly can be."

The so-called omnibus will include 17 pieces of legislation that will be wrapped in together for debates in the Dáil and Seanad.

It will be published at the end of February and the Oireachtas may hold late-night sittings if required "in the national interest".

Four separate Brexit memos will be brought to Cabinet. Tánaiste Simon Coveney will have two looking at overall preparations and the continuation of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.

Transport Minister Shane Ross will update colleagues on work at ports and airports.

Sources say the greatest concern now centres on Rosslare, where at least 13 inspection bays are needed for trucks coming off ships. A dedicated border control point for live animals is also planned, while public offices will also be needed.

Health Minister Simon Harris will deliver an update on the HSE's efforts to ensure there is no disruption to medical supplies.

The HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), which regulates medicines, have been holding weekly planning meetings for the best part of two years.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Harris said a "huge amount of contingency work has been undertaken".

"I want to reassure patients there are plans in place and we will be able to continue to supply medicines. This country is doing everything it possibly can to be prepared for a no-deal Brexit."

A spokesman for the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, representing large branded drug companies, said: "The industry is investing heavily in ensuring that we are prepared, as best we can, for every eventuality. That means reorganising supply chains and revising regulatory approvals so that delays getting medicines to patients are avoided."

However, Medicines for Ireland, the representative group for the largest suppliers of medicines to the HSE, called on the Government to establish a medicines contingency stakeholder group to mitigate the risk of medicines shortages both now and in a post-Brexit scenario.

It comes after the EU issued a clarification of how it sees the backstop working.

In a letter, EU chiefs Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker stressed they were "not in a position" to rewrite or amend the Withdrawal Agreement which was secured by Mrs May last year. But they assured the prime minister that the EU "does not wish to see the backstop enter into force".

The EU presidents said they want negotiations on a close future relationship between the EU and UK "to start as soon as possible".

They said the Brexit deal "represents a fair compromise and aims to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, thereby limiting the negative consequences of Brexit".

Irish Independent

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