Sunday 18 August 2019

Editorial: 'Government must be clear on its planning for no deal'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)


This has been a disconcerting week rolling ever towards the precipice on Brexit. Suddenly we are told to brace ourselves for what was deemed unspeakable, if not unthinkable, only weeks ago.

We hear Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warn Britain's new prime minister he is facing a "very serious reality check" should he think the Brexit negotiations can be reopened. He is right to lay it on the line for Boris Johnson. Issues like trade and the Border cannot be sorted out during the transition phase. In the event of a now more likely UK crash-out, there will not be one.

But Mr Varadkar's words might be more reassuring and carry more authority had he been less guarded on what Government plans actually are. This week, Tánaiste Simon Coveney also finally conceded there will be checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit. He insisted these would not take place on or near the Border.

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But as to how this would, or even could, be managed, we are still in the dark.

So it may not be just the new British prime minister who is in for a rude awakening.

We have also been told more than 40,000 Irish businesses have failed to put in place the vital measures necessary to cope with the consequences of no deal.

They say one should find out what you are afraid of and go live there. Well we may be about to see if these doomsday scenarios are realised. An estimated 55,000 jobs could be lost. One imagines flocks of scapegoats are already being herded in Government in the rush to deflect anger and dodge responsibility for failures to prepare. We can well understand that the Government has two key priorities, namely: avoid a hard border and protect the single market.

They are fundamental objectives with massive economic, social and security implications. But what we still do not understand is how exactly these contradictory objectives can be met. A hard border will be demanded by the EU to protect the single market if a deal is not struck. Mr Varadkar acknowledged there would be "huge difficulties" if a BSE cow from Britain or chlorinated chicken from America ended up in France after coming through a back door in Ireland.

When similarly pressed this week on how measures to protect standards might be managed, Mr Coveney could only say: "A running commentary would not be helpful."

The Government surely must recognise Boris Johnson has fashioned a career on brash confidence and bluster, fudging detail and side-stepping hard questions. Of course denying hard truths is a far easier task than confronting them. But such tactics will not cut it this side of the Irish Sea.

Reality checks may also be required closer to home. Three months from what all agree would be a catastrophe for this country, we still do not know what our Government is planning. If it has answers, we need to know them. If it doesn't, we need to know why.

Irish Independent

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