Wednesday 16 October 2019

Ministers told to draft emergency no-deal Brexit plan

Meeting: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: Reuters
Meeting: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: Reuters

Cormac McQuinn and Kevin Doyle

Ministers will today be ordered to produce emergency plans for how their department will respond in the first 24 hours after a no-deal Brexit.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney will take a memo to Cabinet which informs colleagues they need to game plan worst-case scenarios.

He wants them to have a plan in place for November 1 - the day after the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. Another plan is to be drawn up for the first week, outlining the actions to be taken by November 8.

Meanwhile, the British government is exploring ways of achieving all-party agreement in the North as a way of getting a Brexit deal across the line.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes that if he can get the DUP and Sinn Féin to compromise on a way forward then the backstop issue can be resolved. However, there is little sign of any willingness in either party to work together to resolve the impasse.

After meeting North Secretary Julian Smith yesterday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the British side needed to "get real on Brexit and on restoring power sharing in the North".

Stormont has been in cold storage for more than two-and-a-half years due to a stand-off between Sinn Féin and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.

Mr Johnson took his campaign against the backstop to Luxembourg yesterday where he met its Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, as well as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Following their talks, the commission said Mr Johnson had still not made legally operational proposals to replace the backstop.

"This is a difficult moment because clearly we're very, very keen to do it but I don't want people to think it's necessarily in the bag," Mr Johnson said.

The UK government is reluctant to produce fixed, written proposals, with sources saying they fear the EU side will just "trash it" in public unless the timing is right and Brussels has shown it is open to the possibility of making changes to the deal.

It's understood that a key option being explored by the British government is to avoid a no-deal Brexit by returning to the idea of the North-only backstop, which was first proposed by Theresa May in 2017.

However, it is likely to be redesigned to give some role to the politicians in the North so that Mr Johnson can drop his claims that it is "anti-democratic".

There is caution in British government circles about a possible role for Stormont in developing a new-style backstop.

But the strategy would be hugely helped by the swift restoration of the power-sharing executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but progress is painfully slow. Such a scenario would have to include mechanisms of consent and it has been suggested privately these could be found within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Any arrangement would have to ensure that no one party feels disadvantaged or has a veto. The DUP now accepts some level of regulatory alignment between the North and EU will be necessary - but still opposes a Border in the Irish Sea.

Ms McDonald said the issue of a North backstop was not discussed when she met Mr Smith. Separately, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is set to be grilled by the Dáil's Budgetary Oversight Committee as he prepares his Budget based on a no-deal Brexit scenario.

Irish Independent

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