Thursday 19 September 2019

Philip Ryan: 'Government happy to fill us with no-deal dread without giving a hint of any solutions'

Keeping us in the dark: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar won't tell us how they will check goods crossing the Border should the UK crash out of the EU. Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Keeping us in the dark: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar won't tell us how they will check goods crossing the Border should the UK crash out of the EU. Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

There are things we are told about Brexit and things we are not. The Government, in its ultimate wisdom, believes there are some elements of the negotiations you should know about and others you should not.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are quick to lecture the likes of small businesses about preparing for a no-deal Brexit scenario - sign up trading custom registration numbers, and so forth. But they won't tell us how they will check goods crossing the Border should the UK crash out of the EU.

They are happy to fill us full of dread about the nightmare effects of a disorderly Brexit. But we are not given a hint of any solutions.

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Any scrutiny of its tactics, or lack of, are met with accusations of near treason. Ironically, when it comes to Brexit, Fine Gael expects the Irish media to support it in the same way the likes of 'The Daily Telegraph' and 'Daily Mail' support the hard-line Conservative Party Brexiteers. And look where that got them.

Fianna Fáil has been happy to play along with Varadkar while intermittently questioning the Government's level of preparedness for the worst-case scenario.

The parties are currently adopting a 'wait-and-see' stance on the present Brexit imbroglio which emerged following the election of Boris Johnson as prime minister.

They are wishfully hoping the Westminster parliament will block Johnson's plan to leave the EU, with or without a customs and/or trade deal, on October 31. They vainly hope Jeremy Corbyn or a compromise candidate will be backed by the British parliament to take over as caretaker prime minister.

Under this aspirational scenario, the new prime minister will ask the EU for another Brexit extension which would potentially allow time for a UK general election.

And then presumably Queen Elizabeth's subjects would see the errors of their ways and vote for parties promising a second referendum.

The next question is what would this mean for our politicians. Some in Fine Gael would see the extension as an opportunity to go to the country but there is nothing to be gained from that for Varadkar.

Equally, there is little to be gained from Micheál Martin forcing a general election on the back of the UK securing an extension. Martin is playing the long game of the responsible leader-in-waiting, looking on as the public grow bored of Fine Gael's antics.

So we are still looking at an election between February and June next year. But, say the Brexit deadline is extended, then there is the possibility of the confidence and supply arrangement being extended too. After all, Martin has us believe that Brexit is his main focus, so it would surely be remiss of him to cause an election while talks are ongoing.

Of course, if Johnson has his way, and it seems more likely every day that he will, then the UK will crash out on October 31 and panic will ensue. So what then?

The EU Commission agreed a series of contingency measures which can be implemented in the event of the UK crashing out of the union.

They allow UK aeroplanes fly into EU airports and UK trucks cross European borders. They secure some of the rights of UK citizens living in EU countries and ensure the financial services industry can continue to operate to some extent in the event of no deal. As we know, the EU always looks after the banks. The measures are limited and conditional on the UK reciprocating the same rights for EU citizens, aeroplanes and trucks. They are time limited, and can be withdrawn at any time.

They were drafted to ensure some of the EU's interests are protected after a crash-out. They are also designed to ensure the UK cannot get the advantages of leaving the union without the responsibilities of being a member state.

The EU doesn't want to arrange what could be seen as "side deals" with the UK, as this would put the Withdrawal Agreement in jeopardy - so it has published nothing around the areas of trade, customs or the Irish Border.

But as noted, there are things we are being told and things we are not being told. Perhaps then further contingency arrangements could be agreed between the EU and the UK to give more breathing space for a less politicised negotiation after the October 31 deadline. The EU has insisted it will not revisit the contingency plans currently drafted.

However, if the aim of the plans are to protect EU citizens, then more contingency measures should be considered to ensure the nightmare scenarios they keep warning us about do not unfold. It would allow Johnson to say he left the EU, but in reality he would be bound by EU contingency plans which the commission has the power to withdraw at any time. Or perhaps there is another mystery plan to avoid disaster that we are not being told about.

Irish Independent

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