Thursday 19 September 2019

Varadkar reveals Irish government not making any preparations for hard border, despite EU warnings

  • EU and Irish emergency plans reveal crisis policy
  • Food and livestock to go through customs checks
  • Tánaiste issues warning of exceptional economic event
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, speaks at a 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' workshop at the Convention Centre in Dublin, Ireland October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo
Mr Coveney said there is no risk of food shortages but work is underway to ensure the supply of certain medicines continues unbroken. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Kevin Doyle and Laura Larkin

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has insisted the Irish government is not making any preparations for a hard border, despite EU warnings that checks on animals and food will be necessary if a disorderly Brexit occurs.

Ireland’s contingency plans for a no-deal scenario restate the Government’s commitment to maintain an open border – but give no detail on how this would be possible if the UK crashes out of the EU.

Speaking to reporters today, Mr Varadkar admitted “real difficulties” lie ahead if the UK parliament does not approve the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Taoiseach said he is “nearly always loathe” to speculation about what would happen with the border as “a lot of it raises more questions than I can give answers to”.

“But what is certain to me is in order to avoid a hard border you must have alignment on customs and regulations.

“So it’s all very well for people to say that nobody wants a hard border. Nobody wants it in Dublin, nobody wants it in Belfast, nobody wants it in Brussels or London. But if you don’t have alignment on customs and regulations then you get into real difficulties,” he said.

The European Commission has indicated there will have to be checks on foods such as meat and milk between the Republic and Northern Ireland from March 29. Stock image
The European Commission has indicated there will have to be checks on foods such as meat and milk between the Republic and Northern Ireland from March 29. Stock image

“If the UK crashed out of the European Union at the end of March they would still be aligned on customs and regulations. So the problem would only arise if they decided in some way to change their customs and regulations. And that’s where it could get difficult.”

Mr Varadkar said discussions already started with the EU on what might happen but a lot more will be needed.

“There is a real understanding across the EU that this isn’t a typical border, that this is a border that goes through villages, goes through farms, goes through businesses and of course is a border that people fought and killed other people over as well.

“And the fact that we had we have had so many people from other European countries coming to Ireland, so many people who actually visited the border, has really helped us in creating an understanding of how difficult this is for us.”

He added that “no preparations whatsoever for physical infrastructure or anything like that” have been made.

Instead the focus has been on building new facilitates at Dublin Port, Dublin Airport and Rosslare.

“They may be needed in March in the event of a hard Brexit, but if they are not needed in March, they will be needed into the future, or are very likely to be needed at some point into the future,” Mr Varadkar said.

A hard border with Northern Ireland for food and livestock is firmly on the cards as Britain careers towards a no-deal Brexit in 100 days.

And there is now a threat of some medicines being in short supply and food and clothing prices rising due to extra taxes.

The European Commission has indicated there will have to be checks on foods such as meat and milk between the Republic and Northern Ireland from March 29.

 

Such a move would be a devastating blow for farmers and the agri-food sector, which will have few immediate ways of offsetting the impact.

The Government has now released its own no-deal plan which Tánaiste Simon Coveney described as "stark" and "sobering". It warns of an "exceptional economic event which would be met with exceptional measures".

Mr Coveney admitted there is currently no proposal for how a hard border will be avoided in a no-deal scenario, saying one would be "much, much more complicated" than the backstop.

The Tánaiste said the European Commission "has shown capacity to understand the complexities on this island in the last two years".

But when asked if that meant they would give Ireland leeway on the border if the UK leaves without a deal, he replied: "We don't know."

The PSNI confirmed plans to recruit more than 300 new police officers and staff by 2020, with €18.25m of funding. However, while our plan includes plans for increasing the number of customs officials, it does not commit any extra resources to An Garda Síochána.

Yet the plan says additional land will be needed at Dublin and Rosslare Port and at airports to deal with the "significant increase" in checks needed if the UK leaves with no deal.

At Dublin Port, some of the extra facilities needed include 33 inspection bays for trucks coming off ships and 270 parking spaces for trucks awaiting inspection to avoid tailbacks.

There will also be a need for a dedicated border control post for live animals, as well as new office space. Similar facilities on a smaller scale will be needed in Rosslare.

In Dublin Airport, there is need for new inspection rooms and a border control post for animals also. Work is underway to identify temporary sites for these facilities in the event of a no-deal scenario.

The Dáil, which broke for almost a month yesterday, is likely to grind to a Brexit halt in the New Year as 45 pieces of emergency legislation need to be enacted. Primary legislation will be needed in areas including healthcare, health insurance, the single electricity market, broadcasting and housing provision.

Mr Coveney said there is no risk of food shortages but work is underway to ensure the supply of certain medicines continues unbroken.

Hauliers who bring Irish goods to the continent via the so-called landbridge across the UK will be particularly alarmed by the contingency report.

It says the route is expected to be hit with "severe delays" in the aftermath of a no-deal exit, with Dover-Calais being noted as a potential bottleneck. This will affect goods moving between Ireland and the rest of the single market. The Department of Transport is working with companies to identify alternative options.

While a series of sectoral warnings are outlined, the Government makes it clear that the agri-food sector is particularly at risk.

Hundreds of thousands of litres of milk from the Republic of Ireland goes to Northern Ireland to be processed daily, before making its way back down here onto supermarket shelves. Some 500,000 southern pigs are sent North every year for processing.

In relation to the movement of people, the Commission has urged EU members to take a "generous" approach to the rights of UK citizens in the EU following a no-deal Brexit, "provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK".

EU27 states should ensure UK citizens legally residing in the EU on the date of withdrawal will continue to be considered legal residents and should take a "pragmatic" approach to granting temporary residence status, it said.

UK nationals should be exempted from visa requirements, provided that all EU citizens are equally exempt from UK visas.

The EU plans cover 14 areas most likely to be affected by Brexit, ranging from financial services to aviation, customs and carbon emissions trading.

The measures announced are "limited to specific areas where it is absolutely necessary to protect the vital interests of the EU" and will be "temporary in nature, limited in scope and adopted unilaterally by the EU".

However, most banking, insurance and other financial firms in Britain would be cut off from the European Union if there is a no-deal Brexit. Financial services are Britain's most important tax-earning sector, with the EU its biggest customer.

Minsters are to return from their Christmas break for a special Cabinet meeting on January 3 to assess the latest situation.

Mr Coveney said the plan was an "evolving document" but the real hope was that the House of Commons will come to realise that Prime Minister Theresa May's deal is the best way forward.

He said that people who are playing down the impact of a no-deal Brexit or describing it as "another millennium bug really don't know what they are talking about".

Referring to the plan, he said it should make everybody realise "why we don't want a no-deal Brexit". "This is why we spent two years putting together a detailed plan that allows for a managed Brexit. We need to get back to that deal politically."

He said Ireland will face "multiple challenges" as a country and an economy.

"There is no such thing as a contingency plan that will maintain the status quo as we have today. This is a damage-limitation exercise."

In a no-deal scenario, the UK will become a 'third country', meaning it will no longer be represented on the EU's institutions or subject to the EU's rules or laws.

Ireland's contingency plan states: "A no-deal Brexit would require an immediate focus on crisis management and possible temporary solutions (political, economic, administrative, legislative and communication), which would be rapidly implemented until the necessary longer-term adjustments are in place.

"For Ireland, a no-deal Brexit would potentially involve severe macroeconomic, trade and sectoral impacts. Grappling with the enormous range of impacts, both in the immediate short term and in the longer term, will involve difficult and significant choice of a practical, strategic and political nature."

Irish Independent

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