Sunday 15 September 2019

Fianna Fail warns Fine Gael against using Brexit as 'cover for a giveaway election budget'


Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

John Downing and Philip Ryan

A budget to cushion against the fallout from a no-deal Brexit cannot be used "as political cover" for a pre-election giveaway, Fianna Fáil has warned Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

The warning from the party which keeps Fine Gael's minority coalition in power comes amid increasing signs that the finance minister's Budget in five weeks' time will be framed on the grim assumption that the UK will crash out of the EU on October 31.

Mr Donohoe is preparing plans to pump money into the economy to cushion it from the no-deal Brexit shocks. There will be an increase in capital project spending, funding for tourism, targeted welfare increases and even potential tax cuts.

But Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath has warned that his party will closely scrutinise all Brexit measures ahead of the October 8 Budget.

"We have our own priorities for what needs protection in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"But the suggestion that Brexit would provide cover for 'an election giveaway' is completely unacceptable to Fianna Fáil," Mr McGrath told the Irish Independent.

Voices heard: Protesters taking part in the ‘Let Us Vote’ day of action in London. Photo: Rick Findler/PA Wire
Voices heard: Protesters taking part in the ‘Let Us Vote’ day of action in London. Photo: Rick Findler/PA Wire

The Fianna Fáil finance spokesman added that it had yet to see details of the Budget plans and what assumption they would be based upon.

He said his party would prioritise protecting public services, supporting vulnerable economic sectors, protecting people living in poverty and citizens' incomes.

The Irish Budget preparations continue as the pace of events in both the UK parliament and courts enter a crucial phase this week. UK MPs from a variety of parties opposed to a no-deal Brexit will attempt to pass a law this week to stop Mr Johnson from allowing Britain to crash out of the EU on October 31.

But the minister responsible for no-deal Brexit contingency plans, Michael Gove, refused to guarantee the Johnson government would abide by any such legislation.

Mr Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit on deadline with or without a deal but opposition parties, combined with several of his own Conservative Party MPs, want to push through a law ruling out no deal before parliament is suspended in just over a week.

Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the plan, due to be published tomorrow, had a simple aim: to stop Mr Johnson taking Britain out of the European Union without a deal.

"Obviously, if we are at October 31, that will require an extension.

"But I think this should be a very short, simple exercise designed to ensure we don't crash out without a deal," Mr Starmer told the BBC's 'Andrew Marr Show'.

Mr Gove said he believed a majority of MPs would back the prime minister and defeat the move. However, he would not say if the government would abide by any legislation passed to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

"Let's see what the legislation is," Mr Gove said.

The Labour spokesman said it was "breathtaking" for ministers not to confirm the government would comply with legislation passed lawfully.

"No government is above the law," Mr Starmer wrote on Twitter.

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, again said the Irish Border backstop had to stay to protect the integrity of the EU single market. "The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state," he wrote in the 'Sunday Telegraph'.

Three separate legal challenges to a no-deal Brexit will be heard this week at courts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Judges will be asked to stop a no-deal Brexit and declare the closure of parliament for five weeks in the run-in to the deadline as unconstitutional. Lawyers say this issue may go to the UK Supreme Court.

Only around a quarter of the €2.8bn extra revenue available to Mr Donohoe on October 8 is not already spoken for - leaving some €700m to be decided upon.

Mr Donohoe has deferred outlining the thrust of his Budget plans to Cabinet from tomorrow for at least a week to monitor political and legal developments in the UK.

Separately, Health Minister Simon Harris today announces a €2.1bn HSE capital plan for the next three years. This will include provision for 480 extra hospital beds, major investment in nursing homes and the development of 30 primary care centres.

Irish Independent

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