Monday 16 September 2019

FG members told to be election ready in 'few weeks' over Brexit uncertainty

'Major push' significant ahead of Budget talks with FF

Mastermind: Dominic Cummings, the Johnson adviser behind the latest controversial plans, leaves his home in London to head to No 10. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Mastermind: Dominic Cummings, the Johnson adviser behind the latest controversial plans, leaves his home in London to head to No 10. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's supporters have been warned to be on alert for an election "at all times" as Brexit uncertainty consumes the political agenda.

Ahead of tough Budget negotiations, Fine Gael headquarters has instructed constituency organisers to make "a major push" to order election posters "in the next few weeks".

Leo Varadkar: He said he is willing to 'listen to any proposal'
Leo Varadkar: He said he is willing to 'listen to any proposal'

The timing of the correspondence will be seen as significant by Fianna Fáil as it prepares to lay out its demands for Budget 2020.

Both parties have agreed that their Confidence and Supply arrangement should allow Mr Varadkar's Government to remain in power until at least spring.

However, the mounting speculation that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will go to the polls in the coming weeks is having a ripple effect in Ireland.

If Brexit were to be delayed beyond October 31, it could open a window for a general election here.

In correspondence seen by the Irish Independent, Fine Gael HQ tells members: "With the continuing uncertainty over Brexit, and the fact that the Government does not have a majority in the Dáil - we must be election-ready at all times."

It notes that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has ordered a number of changes to constituency tickets since the local elections in May and the situation remains under "constant review".

The email added: "Whilst a number of constituencies have their election posters printed already, there will be a major push for all constituencies to place orders in the next few weeks."

Members are also asked to support two major fundraising drives that will take place between now and Christmas.

The party's annual president's dinner will take place three days before the Budget on October 8, while the 'superdraw' is in early December.

The latter raised almost €1m last year and helped fund candidates in the local and European elections.

Mr Varadkar plans to meet the UK prime minister next week - but those talks remain up in the air until there is some clarity as to whether a majority of MPs will try to block Mr Johnson leaving the EU on October 31 without a deal.

In any event, there is little expectation that the Brexit impasse can be broken during bilateral talks between Dublin and London.

The Government insists the EU Taskforce, led by Michel Barnier, speaks on its behalf in Brexit negotiations.

The Taoiseach said yesterday he was willing to "listen to any proposal" for maintaining an open Border on this island.

"The backstop is a means to an end. It's there to ensure that we continue to have frictionless trade North and south, that there is no physical infrastructure, no checks, no controls, no tariffs," he said.

Sources in Ireland and the EU see little or no progress being made on an alternative to the backstop.

But Mr Johnson said he believed talks with Brussels had moved forward in recent weeks, because the UK government "wants a deal, has a clear vision for the future relationship" and was clear that the UK would leave the EU on October 31 "come what may".

In the background, Mr Donohoe has begun work on his Budget. He is operating on the basis that the UK will crash out of the EU - but has not ruled out potential tax cuts and targeted social welfare increases.

Formal talks with Fianna Fáil on the make-up of the package will get under way shortly after the Dáil resumes on September 17.

"If we are in a no-deal scenario, we are going to have other priorities that we will have to respond back to," Mr Donohoe said.

"We will have to ensure that we have the resources available to protect living standards and protect companies that are otherwise viable.

"We will comment further on what the tax and social welfare consequences of that will be as we work our way through the budgetary process."

Asked whether he would rule out an emergency Budget, Mr Donohoe replied: "We're going to do one Budget for this year."

Mr Varadkar has said he expects a "substantial financial package" will be needed for businesses and industries that would be hit by a no-deal Brexit.

He said some money would come from the EU, but the majority would have to be found at home.

He singled out the agri-food sector as being particularly exposed.

"We expect to be in a position to announce the details of that on Budget day which is well in advance, three weeks ahead of a potential no deal," said Mr Varadkar.

"Certainly, the majority of the money will have come from our own resources".

"We can't hold European taxpayers in Bratislava and Rome responsible for a decision made in London," he said.

He said the economy was "well managed" and the Government would be in a position to help industries hit by Brexit.

Irish Independent

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