Tuesday 17 September 2019

'No-deal Brexit is madness quite frankly, everybody loses' - Simon Coveney warns

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Ralph Riegel

TANAISTE Simon Coveney warned that Ireland will do everything necessary to ensure the country is not dragged out of the critical EU Single Market by a no-deal Brexit.

He described a no-deal Brexit as "madness" and said  it represented "a lose, lose, lose" for Ireland, the EU and the UK.

The warning came as Mr Coveney denied that he had given any briefing to Cabinet or studied any written report which indicated Ireland would lose 10,000 jobs within the first three months of a no-deal Brexit with the UK crashing out of the EU.

However, the Cork TD said he believed the risk of a no-deal Brexit was now marginally less likely given events over the past 48 hours in Westminster.

The Tanaiste said that, despite mounting speculation about a UK general election being confirmed next week, he still expects Prime Minister Boris Johnson to travel to Dublin on Monday.

"I think that at the moment my understanding is the British prime minister is coming to meet the Taoiseach and I have no reason to believe that that won’t happen," he said.

"I think Sterling strengthened yesterday on the back of the reduced risk of a no-deal Brexit  happening at the end of October but of course it could still happen and we have to plan for that and prepare for it," he said.

"But I think the strengthening of Sterling was more about a no-deal Brexit now being marginally less likely than it was before the votes in Westminster over last 24 hours but again I’m always slow to comment on the politics of Westminster - that really is a matter for the parties and the individuals there."

He said Ireland had to remain within the EU Single Market irrespective of Brexit and its fall-out.

"We need a dual objective here - we need to protect and maintain Ireland's place in the EU Single Market so that we don't get dragged out of the Single Market against our will as a result of Brexit.

"I think I have been levelling with people for a long time now - I have been making it very clear that we will do everything we can to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

"We will try to do everything we can to protect the all island economy as it functions today.

"What I said is that we have a dual obligation here to protect the peace process and an all-island economy while at the same time protecting Ireland's place in the Single Market - I made that very clear. I also said that there would need to be checks somewhere on the island in order to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market - we are trying to work that out given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the context of the border."

The Tanaiste said this underlined why the so-called Irish back-stop in the Withdrawal Agreement was absolutely vital.

"This is why, by the way, the Irish Government's position is so supportive of the back-stop as the way of resolving this issue through regulatory alignment.

"We know that, despite what many people say about alternative arrangements, there aren't alternative arrangements that we have seen that do the same job as the back-stop. They are significantly sub-optimal to the back-stop which is why it needs to be part of any deal that is done with the UK."

He said border arrangements post-Brexit have not yet been finalised.

"We do have some sense but we don't have detail on that because it is not agreed yet with the European Commission.

"As soon as we know, you will know. This is not just an Irish border we are talking about, it is also an EU frontier with the UK. The solution has to be worked out collectively with Ireland and the EU. It needs to take into account the unique circumstances on this island and the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland."

He said that while sectors such as tourism, agri-food and fisheries were very vulnerable to the fall-out from a no-deal Brexit, he had not delivered any warning about 10,000 job losses in just three months.

"No, you (the media) are reporting that (10,000 job losses in just three months). There was no report to Cabinet yesterday, there was nothing in writing talking about 10,000 jobs.

"Different ministers spoke about different areas. There was a big discussion for about an hour or so in relation to a no-deal Brexit, the consequences of that and the supports that are needed for vulnerable sectors. We know sectors like tourism and agriculture-food are of course vulnerable - because they are areas that we don't control the response to on the British side.

"I was the one giving the briefing as was the Taoiseach – I don’t think people were surprised - there was a detailed discussion around a number of areas – some of those are referred to in that article.

"I‘m not sure who gave the briefing (to the media) – it’s not the first briefing the Cabinet have been given on a no-deal brexit – nobody in the Cabinet should be surprised that there are vulnerable sectors here  - those vulnerable sectors we know are fishing, agri-food and tourism.

"Of course the Government needs to work with those sectors to support them through the disruption of a no-deal Brexit should that happen.

"(But) no report that I gave referred to the figure of 10,000 in any of the documents that I gave to the Cabinet yesterday. I think it’s important to level with people and I have always been straight up with people in terms of a no-deal and why we want to avoid it and why it’s madness quite frankly.

"Everybody loses in a no-deal – you may remember me saying back in July. This means a lose, lose, lose for everybody – for the UK, for Ireland for the EU and it’s why we want to work to avoid a no deal  this ultimately this is a choice for the British government – they will be the ones and the British parliament if they allow it to happen, they will be the ones who will be choosing a no deal, not Ireland, not the EU.

"If there is a significant devaluation of Sterling that will make Ireland a more expensive location for tourism and may have an impact for tourist numbers coming from the UK. There is no secret there.

"I have been for some time now, as has the Taoiseach, and other Government spokespeople on Brexit - we have been very upfront and honest on the consequences of a no-deal. That is why Minister Donohue will have to factor that in in the context of any budget that decides.

"You will see a very extensive communication campaign continuing now continuing through the months of September and October explaining to people the consequences of a no-deal and how the country will respond.

"What I would say to people is that we need to come together on this - not divide on it. Political parties need to be talking to each other on this. I am an open book when it comes to Brexit and briefing Opposition parties and spokesperson and have been for many, many months.

"And we need to come together as a business community to to anticipate and put in place plans to mitigate against the damaging effects of a no-deal. That is exactly what is happening. We were with 360 companies yesterday in the RDS. There will be meetings across the country in the coming weeks with business organisations, through local enterprise boards, through Enterprise Ireland structures and through many other State structures to work with businesses to plan for any no-deal.

"Yesterday we launched a nine step guide for every business to look at in terms of their own individual preparations for Brexit. There are no new surprises here. But it is true that no matter how well you prepare, the environment that happens on the back of a no-deal Brexit changes trading conditions, changes the relationship between the UK and Ireland.  Of course it will have a negative impact on multiple sectors."

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Also in News