Thursday, 11 July 2019
Brexit Contingency Action Plan: Statements
We are approaching yet another Brexit deadline and we can look back to last March to see many similarities, but there is an acceptance that this time is different. By 31 October the UK must either accept the Brexit withdrawal treaty it negotiated, including the backstop that it helped to craft, or face a disorderly Brexit and leave the European Union with no deal. While there might be space to tweak the declaration on future relations to give further assurances that a good trade deal will be struck, thereby hopefully negating the need to invoke the backstop, there is no space and there are no cracks in the withdrawal treaty to wedge in any alterations. There must also be an acceptance in Ireland, however, that without a deal there is no backstop, which would leave us in a difficult and challenging position.
Ireland's position and the EU's position have remained constant and unchanged. There has been solidarity across Ireland, ranging from the business to the farming communities. All Members of this House have stood together to face down the challenge that Brexit presents. The maturity this House has displayed in dealing with the Brexit crisis is in stark contrast to the immaturity of the much older neighbouring parliament in England. Our politics, despite a minority Government and a sometimes fractured political landscape, have worked remarkably well on this issue, so it is deeply disappointing to see British politics so utterly broken and unable to serve the citizens. While we can look on with interest at the Tory leadership contest, we have no role in who becomes the next British Prime Minister. We will work with whoever replaces Mrs. Theresa May at the end of this month, although it is worrying and disappointing that a willingness to crash the UK out of the European Union and deliver the hardest Brexit is now almost a badge of honour for the two candidates. However, we must remember that in the heat of the leadership contest, they are speaking solely to Tory Party members and not to their wider citizen base.
The way in which relations between the Irish and UK Governments have deteriorated is a deep concern for Members. We have spent many decades building a strong relationship between both islands and Brexit has put a considerable strain on that. At times, there even appears to be a degree of hostility between both Governments. That is not good. We must look at the bigger picture and try to think of a time beyond Brexit, when we wish to continue to have a strong relationship with our closest neighbour not only because it is our biggest market but also because we have long historical and strong cultural links that are very important to our people. The Government has done a great deal of work on interacting with EU leaders in member states but, arguably, has failed to put the same effort into the very important relationship with the UK Government. Ultimately, that has caused damage and it must be addressed urgently.
The updated Brexit contingency plan published this week contains very little new information and is not really a plan. It contained much of what was in the original plan and a great deal of information on what the Government has already done, such as the memorandum of understanding, MOU, work at Dublin Port and staff who have already been hired. The economic warnings issued by the Government again this week were nothing new. We know Brexit is bad and the many economic forecasts from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, the Central Bank, the Department of Finance, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister for Finance have been saying that for a long time. We know there could be a deficit of €6.5 billion in the Government's finances next year and that we face job losses of up to 55,000 in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, so the stark warnings this week did not add anything to the debate. I am not sure the publication of the plan this week was useful.
There are glaring omissions from the updated plan. We still do not know what type of support package will be in place for farmers and businesses in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There are no details about that. We also still do not know how we will manage the Border and what happens in the event of a no-deal Brexit when we know we will have to protect the integrity of the Single Market. As the Tánaiste said, we cannot have Ireland removed from the Single Market because of Brexit. Reasonable questions are being asked, not just by Fianna Fáil but by every Member of the Opposition and our citizens, farmers and businesses, but we still do not have answers with just over 100 days to go. Our preparedness leaves a great deal to be desired. More than 40,000 businesses are still not registered with an economic operators and registration and identification, EORI, number with the Revenue Commissioners. I appreciate that not all those businesses trade frequently with the UK, but some do.
I will reiterate a point I made previously. The Government cannot take a hands-off approach to small and medium-sized businesses or to small haulage businesses. It is not acceptable to say that it is up to them to get ready. It is in the national interest that the Government works with them and ensures they are ready. If they are not ready, every citizen on this island will be impacted.