Written answers

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Brexit Preparations

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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380. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the ongoing work to prepare for Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18334/20]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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No deal preparations were well advanced for the possibility of a no deal Brexit on 29 March, 31 October, 2019 and 31 January 2020. The additional time afforded by the transition period has allowed departments to refine this work and re-calibrate it as necessary for the end of the transition period. The end of transition will involve both immediate challenges and long term, permanent changes.

In any scenario from 1 January 2021, the UK will be outside the EU Single Market and Customs Union.  This will bring significant changes to Ireland’s supply chains and trade flows – creating new checks on trade in both directions and increasing costs and administrative burdens on business. 

Given the limited progress in EU-UK Future Partnership negotiations, on 29 May the Government approved the intensification of readiness and contingency planning across all Departments on the basis of two scenarios: (i) a limited FTA and accompanying fisheries agreement, or, (ii) a hard Brexit (no trade agreement).  While Ireland still supports the closest possible relationship between the EU and UK, prudence dictates that we approach our contingency planning on this basis.

The Government continues to intensify all its readiness preparations. We have made substantial investments in infrastructure and systems at our ports and airports to prepare for the introduction of checks on controls on EU-UK trade. 

In partnership with other Landbridge countries and the Commission, we recently addressed some SPS related challenges affecting Irish/EU goods transiting the UK back into the EU.  The UK’s accession to the Common Transit Convention is a positive step as it will allow EU goods to transit through the UK without undergoing full customs import and export formalities on entry and exit.  However, the way the Landbridge is used will change at the end of the transition period.  We will work with traders and hauliers to inform them of the steps they need to take.

In 2019, over 63,000 businesses registered for an EORI number, covering 95.8 % of the volume of exports to the UK in 2019 and 92.7% of imports.  Two weeks ago, the Revenue Commissioners wrote to over 60,000 businesses that traded with the UK since 2019 who not yet registered for EORI. In addition to obtaining an EORI number, Government outreach promote awareness of the need for business to address a range of new administrative, customs, regulatory and SPS issues arising from the UK becoming a third country.

The Government established a €20 million Brexit fund to help SMEs involved in exporting and importing with the UK and further afield to put in place the staff, software and IT systems to be ready for new customs arrangements from 1 January 2021. Further supports are available to businesses as part of the recovery agenda announced in the July Stimulus to help businesses reopen, create jobs and prepare for the economy of the future.

The €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve which forms part of the new MFF is very welcome and will help cushion the impact on those Member States and sectors most affected.  Ireland worked hard to secure this  Brexit Adjustment fund in the MFF package.  The special allocation of €120 million for a new PEACE PLUS programme is also welcome. This will continue the work of the current PEACE and INTERREG programmes in a post-Brexit context

We will continue to work closely with the European Commission on readiness work at a European level.  The Commission is currently updating 102 ‘Readiness Notices’, which provide advice for businesses and citizens on a wide range of issues affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU acquis. These include, inter alia, Air Transport, Food Law and VAT. Where applicable, the updated notices provide guidance to businesses and citizens on the operation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. The question of contingency measures at EU level for a hard Brexit will also be discussed at the appropriate time.

I will publish an update of the Government’s Brexit Readiness and Contingency Action Plan in September.  This will outline the work taking place across Government and the steps business and citizens should take to prepare for the end of the transition period.   We will also roll out a new focussed communications programmes for the final phase.

In response to requests from nine Departments, the Government on 29 May 2020 approved the preparation of a scheme for a new Brexit Omnibus Bill.  I expect to bring this scheme to Government for approval and publication in the coming weeks with a view to bringing it to the Oireachtas in the autumn.

A key difference between the 2019 Act and 2020 Brexit Bill is that the 2019 Act sought to provide contingency measures to address issues arising in a no deal cliff-edge scenario while the 2020 version will deal with permanent change that will take place at the end of the transition period. 

The aim of the Bill is to provide a legislative underpinning to the wide ranging and complex issues that arise post transition, It will seek to protect citizens and consumers, facilitate the sound functioning of key sectors and ensure our businesses are not disadvantaged.  It will also support aspects of the Common Travel Area and North/South cooperation.

The Government has always been clear that Brexit will mean change. Whatever the outcome of the EU-UK future relationship negotiations, it will not be the status quo and the way we trade with the UK will change.  With less than six months to the end to the transition period, Government will continue to develop and refine our readiness efforts.  It is vital that business and citizens do the same.

However, regardless of the outcome of the future negotiations partnerships, the Withdrawal Agreement including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will remain in place.  We will also face into this new phase of our relationship with the UK as a member of the EU27 and the strength and solidarity that brings.

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