Sunday 20 January 2019

Irish economy is 'so strong' it will grow even if there's a hard Brexit – Varadkar

  • Economy will still grow next year even if there is a hard Brexit - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
  • Varadkar quoted analysis released by ESRI today which forecasts that even if there is a hard Brexit, the economy will grow by 2.8pc in 2019
  • Taoiseach clashes with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who called on Government to start preparing for a united Ireland referendum
  • Discussion occurred just hours before British PM Theresa May faces 'no confidence' vote in her leadership of the Conservative Party
Leo Varadkar (Michelle Devane/PA)
Leo Varadkar (Michelle Devane/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

IRELAND’S economy will still grow next year even if there is a hard Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Insisting that the Government is prepared for a worst case scenario, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that the economy is “so strong, we’d continue to grow and not go into recession”.

However, he repeatedly sought to avoid direct questions on the plans in place to soften the blow of the UK crashing out of the EU next March.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked for exact figures for the number of new customs officers that will be in place on Brexit Day and details of what infrastructural changes are being made at ports and airports.

He said businesses had not engaged sufficiently in the various Brexit preparedness initiatives.

Mr Martin claimed there was a “genuine tendency” on the part of the Government to be “coy and withhold information from the public” on the basis the truth would cause “undue panic”.

“I believe the public should be made aware of all the scenarios of Brexit,” he said.

In response the Taoiseach said that while there are “huge downsides” to Brexit, the economy is well-positioned to cope.

Mr Varadkar quoted an analysis released by the ESRI today which forecasts that even if there is a hard Brexit, the economy will grow by 2.8pc in 2019.

He said 3,000 people have applied for customs posts, of which 200 will be in place by March. However, this could be “flexed up to a greater number if needed”.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Mr Varadkar then clashed with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who called on the Government to start preparing for a united Ireland referendum.

She said the crisis in Westminster meant Ireland needs to start “ploughing our own furrow” and “a referendum on unity must be advanced as a matter of urgency”.

Ms McDonald said a united Ireland was the “ultimate contingency plan” and the “logical, sensible option to avoid the calamity of a crash”.

But Mr Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of trying to push their own agenda rather than the national interest.

He said while most TDs support the concept of a 32-county republic, “this is not the time to go about it”.

Mr Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of “stirring up tensions in Northern Ireland” and attempting to turn Brexit into an “orange versus green” issue.

He said if Ms McDonald really wanted to do something practical to help the situation, she could get her MPs to take up their seats in Westminster and vote for the Withdrawal Agreement.

The discussion occurred just hours before Theresa May faces a no confidence vote in her leadership of the Conservative Party.

How does a Conservative leadership contest work?

Theresa May faces a leadership challenge from Tory MPs after delaying a Commons vote on her Brexit deal.

Here is how a Conservative leadership contest will unfold:

Why will there be a vote?

A threshold of 48 letters of no confidence - 15pc of Tory MPs - has been reached. Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said the threshold had been exceeded.

What happens in the no confidence vote?

Mrs May will need the support of more than 50pc of the 315 Conservative MPs to stay in office, so 158 in total. But even if she wins, if the margin of victory is small her authority may have been fatally wounded.

When will the vote be held?

The ballot is from 6-8pm on Wednesday evening, and the result is announced shortly afterwards.

What if May loses?

If the PM loses the vote, she would not be able to stand in the subsequent leadership contest arranged by Sir Graham.

How would that work?

Candidates for the leadership must be nominated by two Conservative MPs. If only one candidate comes forward, he or she becomes leader.

If a number of would-be leaders are nominated, the list is whittled down to a shortlist of two in a series of votes by MPs.

The final pair then go to a postal ballot of all party members, with the position of leader - and Prime Minister - going to the victor.

How long would that take?

Sir Graham would be responsible for overseeing the contest and setting a timetable for the campaign, which would be expected to last around 12 weeks - although those calling for Mrs May to go believe it could be accomplished much quicker.

Mrs May could remain in the post during the campaign period.

Who are the contenders to take over as Tory leader?

Bookmakers have Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab as joint favourites, followed by Michael Gove and Sajid Javed. Although Cabinet colleagues like Mr Javed have voiced support for Mrs May, they could become contenders if she loses the no confidence vote.

The 1922 Committee seems to have a key role, what exactly is it?

Widely known in Westminster as "the '22", the committee of all backbench Conservative MPs meets weekly when the House of Commons is sitting.

Where does the unusual name come from?

The committee takes its name from a meeting of Conservative MPs on October 19 1922. The MPs successfully ended the party's coalition with the Liberals, bringing down the government of David Lloyd George. The resulting general election was won by the Tories.

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