Flanagan: Brexit would be 'disastrous' for the UK but Boris heading straight for October deadline 'come what may'
A NO-DEAL Brexit would be “disastrous” for the UK, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ‘hard Brexiteers’ are heading straight for the Halloween deadline “come what may,” a senior Irish government minister has said.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan made the remarks after a weekend where Mr Johnson met European Council president Donald Tusk at the G7 Summit in France where there appears to have been no progress in breaking the Brexit impasse.
The comments come after it emerged that the European Union expects Britain to honour all its financial obligations made during its membership of the bloc even after a no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile Tánaiste Simon Coveney said there was “certainly no big breakthroughs” and issued a renewed warning to businesses to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson said at the weekend that the prospect of a Brexit deal is “touch and go” and claimed it would be the EU’s fault if no deal was made.
He wants the backstop designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland dropped.
Mr Flanagan gave his assessment of how negotiations will go over the coming weeks saying: “there’s a big challenge here”.
“It seems clear that prime minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet - comprising as they do a team of hard Brexiteers - are heading straight for the 31st of October come what may.
“So there’s a lot of work to do,” Mr Flanagan told WLR FM’s ‘Deise Today’ programme.
Mr Flanagan added: “A no-deal Brexit will be disastrous for the UK in particular.
“It will be very bad for Ireland.
“It will be very bad for the European Union and we need to do everything we can to avoid it.”
Meanwhile, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee has said the government's core planning is directed towards preparing for a no-deal Brexit at the end of October.
Ms McEntee said that while it was still the government's objective and goal to have a deal on the UK exiting the EU there had been a change in "feeling and sentiment" since the the Brexit deadline was extended last spring.
"We’ve moved some time ago to planning what was a central case scenario for a deal and obviously getting a deal is our goal and our objective still. However, our core planning has been directed towards a no-deal scenario now for some time," Ms McEntee said in Portlaoise on Monday.
"Given the fact that last April with the Brexit deadline looming we still had no deal agreed, obviously now I think there is a change in feeling and sentiment particularly given the fact that the last extension many EU member states and colleagues we’re very clear - ourselves included - that without a reason for a further extension - be it an election, be it a referendum, or revoking Article 50 - that there would be no further extension."
Ms McEntee also rejected the contention that the current withdrawal deal - which the UK government opposes - is dead and dismissed suggestions from one of her predecessors, former Fine Gael TD and European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, that Ireland should agree to a five-year time limit on the backstop. Ms McEntee said such a provision "essentially removes the backstop" from the Brexit deal.
The Fine Gael minister was speaking after she visited the An Post Mail Centre in Portlaoise, Co Laois where she was briefed by postal service and customs officials on the no-deal Brexit preparations. An Post Mail and Parcels managing director Garret Bridgeman insisted that customers should not worry in the event of a no-deal scenario. "From our point of view, this is not a big deal," he said of the prospect of the UK crashing out.
The UK’s exit from the EU without a deal in October will bring about immediate price increases for online shoppers from well-known retailers like Asos, Boohoo, Amazon with extra VAT and import tariffs applied.
Consumers who buy clothes online and return or exchange them are likely to find this more difficult and costly in a no-deal Brexit. Irish people are among the largest online shoppers in the world, spending in the region of €5bn annually.
Elsewhere, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the indications are that there were “certainly no big breakthroughs” in the meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Tusk, adding: “I don’t think we should be surprised by that.
He added: “We’ve seen in the last number of weeks the British government outlining a very firm position and we’ve seen the EU responding equally firmly - if respectfully - that this deal needs to be done on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement that took two and a half years to negotiate.”
Mr Coveney also said: “we still don’t have the outcome that we’re looking for which is a deal to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
“So the message from the Irish government to everybody who’s linked to Brexit – which most businesses in the country are – is to prepare for a no-deal.”
The statement came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that if Britain leaves without a deal, it will no longer legally owe the 39 billion pound (€42.94bn) divorce bill agreed by his predecessor.
"All commitments that were taken by the 28 member states should be honoured. This is also and especially true in a no-deal scenario where the United Kingdom would be expected to continue to honour all commitments made during EU membership," the spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said.
"Settling accounts is essential to starting of a new relationship on the right foot, based on mutual trust," she said, adding that London has not formally raised the issue with the EU side so far.
The statement comes after Mr Johnson, who was using the G7 summit in Biarritz to hold talks with European Council president Donald Tusk, said he believed the chances of a deal were "improving" following a round of diplomacy including meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
But he refused to repeat his previous assertion that the odds of a no-deal outcome were a million to one.
"It all depends on our EU friends and partners, I think in the last few days there has been a dawning realisation in Brussels and other European capitals what the shape of the problem is for the UK," he told the BBC.
"I think it's going to be touch and go but the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal."
In a series of broadcast interviews, Mr Johnson confirmed he would withhold the bulk of the £39bn (€42.7bn) divorce bill if there is not a deal.
"I think what the entire European Union understands is that if we come out without a deal that the £39bn is not pledged," he told Sky.
If there was a no-deal Brexit, he would "guarantee" people would still be able to get medicine and added he thought it "highly unlikely" there would be any food shortages.
Before the summit, Mr Tusk urged Mr Johnson not to go down in history as "Mr No Deal". The prime minister told Sky: "The people who are going to be responsible for no deal are not in the UK, we don't want no deal."
Following the talks with Mr Tusk, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had told the council president "we will work in an energetic and determined way to get a better deal and we are very willing to sit down to talk with the EU and member states about what needs to be done to achieve that".
An EU official said the meeting had restated known positions and Brussels had been hoping for "new elements to unblock the situation".
Mr Johnson said US President Donald Trump is "very gung-ho" about a major UK-US trade deal following the first formal meeting between the two leaders earlier yesterday.
The prime minister was praised by the US president as the "right man for the job" of delivering Brexit and was promised a "very big trade deal" as they met in the margins of the G7 summit.
But Mr Johnson played down the prospects of a transatlantic deal being concluded within a year, as he believes Washington wants. He warned a deal with the "protectionist" US would not be "plain sailing".
Both leaders were keen to stress their desire for a trade deal after the UK has left the European Union.
The US president said: "We're going to do a very big trade deal, bigger than we've ever had with the UK and now at some point they won't have the obstacle, they won't have the anchor around their ankle, because that's what they have."
But Mr Johnson has raised a series of areas where he wants concessions from Washington.
Mr Trump said he wanted a deal done "quickly" as in the past he had been "stymied" by Theresa May.
With additional reporting from Reuters