Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
The proposals released by the British Government this morning relate to a no-deal Brexit scenario, which is by no means certain at this stage I am glad to say. Further votes are scheduled in Westminster today and tomorrow on possible Brexit scenarios. Ireland will respond to these proposals as part of the EU27 and, of course, in partnership with our EU colleagues. Our core objective is, and continues to be, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and to protect the integrity of the Single Market and customs union. That does not change in a no-deal Brexit scenario. As co-guarantors, the two Governments will continue to have obligations under the Good Friday agreement to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland. That will be challenging in a no-deal scenario.
The imperative is to work together, and with our EU partners, to ensure we deliver on the shared goal of avoiding a hard border, deal or no deal. Tariffs will have a negative impact on trade and will be damaging to businesses, farmers and consumers in Ireland and the UK. We will study the impact of these proposals carefully, together with our EU partners. We have already had contact this morning. However, it should be stressed that no option, including zero-rate tariffs for some product categories or managed tariff rate quotas, would be as good as what is currently on the table in the withdrawal agreement which provides for no change in the current tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU during a transition period and also a guarantee of avoiding a hard border and protecting an all-island economy. Regarding the Deputy's questions on state aid, the Government is in close contact with the EU Commission on the matter of state aid supports. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, met with Commissioners Vestager and Hogan to discuss the specific challenges facing Irish businesses.
In February, the EU Commission announced a relaxation of state aid rules regarding supports for farmers. Aid limits per farm were increased from €15,000 to €25,000. Only last week, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, announced an amendment to the rescue and restructuring scheme budget from budget from €20 million to €200 million. This scheme is an important safety net for Irish businesses and the increased budget is prudent as part of the overall contingency plan for Brexit. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Government will seek further relaxation of state aid rules and EU support for businesses and agribusiness. In its contingency action plan, the EU Commission noted the specific challenges faced by Irish businesses and committed to helping Ireland find specific solutions. That is exactly what is underway.
I could outline in detail the supports already put in place for agrifood. However, I have done so on many occasions in this House, as has the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed. In short, the crisis, the problem and the uncertainty linked to Brexit all emanate from the inability of the British Parliament to give a clear signal, through majority support, on what it is willing to support and ratify. We will continue to advocate for the sensible deal which emerged after two and a half years of negotiation which solves many of these problems. I hope we will have a clearer picture in the next 48 hours as debates and votes take place in the British Parliament at Westminster.