Wednesday 17 July 2019

Livestock inspections to be held at 'point of arrival' as vets redeployed in Government's Brexit plans

Tanaiste Simon Coveney Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Tanaiste Simon Coveney Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Checks on animals and goods entering Ireland from the North are "inevitable" if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has conceded there will have to be physical inspections for livestock and agri-food products - but insists they will not take place at the Border.

The Irish Independent understands the Government is in talks with the European Commission about allowing checks take place at the "point of arrival" in order to keep the Northern Ireland Border open.

This is likely to involve veterinary checks at factories and other food processing facilities. The Government is concerned that if some form of checks aren't introduced, Ireland will risk being "forced out of the single market against our will".

But Mr Coveney insisted: "We are not going to put checks on the Border or close to it."

He said there is no "evil plan on a shelf somewhere that can be implemented if necessary".

Sources say there is broad agreement between the EU and Ireland in relation to a system that will be used to collect the customs tariffs that will apply in a no-deal scenario.

However, it could be some time before there is clarity on how animals and products such as milk will be processed.

Mr Coveney confirmed: "The really difficult area would be around sanitary and phytosanitary [SPS] checks for agri-food product."

While extra veterinary staff have been hired to facilitate East-West trade, none has been recruited to run internal checkpoints. But it is expected some existing resources could be redeployed on a temporary basis as part of an emergency response, similar to what happened during the foot and mouth crisis in 2001.

Meanwhile, the Revenue Commissioners will write to thousands of businesses in the coming weeks urging them to assess their supply chains and customs arrangements.

New figures show 663 companies have applied for the €300m Brexit Loan Scheme. Almost 600 of these have been approved for a cash injection, but so far only 145 have drawn down money - amounting to €32m. Ministers were yesterday briefed on the heightened fears that a no-deal Brexit on October 31 will lead to widespread disruption for businesses and consumers.

An updated contingency plan warns of "profound political, economic and legal implications".

"There should be no illusion - a no-deal Brexit would result in far-reaching change on the island of Ireland," it adds.

In the immediate aftermath of the UK's exit from the EU, there will be an expected loss of up to 55,000 jobs. The country's finances will suffer a €6.5bn impact in the first year. Mr Coveney said there could be "no sugar-coating" of the threat posed by a disorderly Brexit.

"Make no mistake, a no-deal Brexit is an ugly prospect," he said, adding that it would cause "fundamental disruption to the all-island economy".

The Tánaiste and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe stressed their view that it is imperative for Ireland to remain inside the EU's single market no matter what happens. However, Mr Coveney said whatever infrastructure is put in place must not "create a security risk".

"The truth is we will need to take some action somewhere in our economy to ensure that we are protecting the integrity of the products that are going to be sold on out of Ireland," he said.

The contingency update details the progress made in preparation since a Brexit extension was granted to the UK in April.

But it also sets out a number of areas where "significant" concerns remain, including the potential for delays at ports as a result of customs checks. The document places particular focus on Northern Ireland, warning that the UK government could move quickly towards direct rule if the Assembly is not restored before October 31.

Although the report does not mention the Conservative Party leadership race, there is a strong belief within Cabinet that the change of UK prime minister has increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

The Government notes that the EU is willing to look again at the Political Declaration on the future relationship should the UK move on its red lines. But it reiterates the long-standing position that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, cannot be renegotiated.

Irish Independent

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