Theresa May rejects Irish appeal to delay Brexit date

Appeals by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to extend the deadline for Brexit have been rejected by British prime minister Theresa May.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that he had raised the prospect with Ms May as the clock ticks down to a disorderly Brexit in just over five weeks.

“I have raised the issue of Article 50 potentially being extended and the prime minister has made her position clear that she intends the UK will leave the EU on time on the date that they have set for it,” he told the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar hosted Ms May for a private dinner in Dublin earlier this month. While it is not clear when he asked her to extend Article 50, this is the last time when the two leaders spoke. He also said that, despite pressure from London to open up the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the terms of Britain’s divorce were unlikely to be changed by the EU.

“I don’t think that we’ll get to anything very different to the agreement that we have now, the agreement that is on the table, even if that involves a period of uncertainty after 29 March,” he said.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed emergency measures to protect Ireland if a no-deal goes ahead. These include powers for transport and energy authorities, legislation to ensure continued healthcare arrangements with the UK, and that welfare payments in both jurisdictions continue. The omnibus bill will be published on Friday, after opposition leaders are briefed on the emergency powers and protections later this week.

Special extradition arrangements with Britain, data sharing, and visa arrangements for short-term visits between both countries, were also agreed under the auspices of the Department of Justice at the Cabinet yesterday.

While a Government spokesman said there was a “significant discussion” at Cabinet on Brexit, government figures in general are remaining tight-lipped on the issue. The spokesman, however, did confirm that Mr Varadkar and ministers were updated on “the state of play of negotiations”.

The no-deal Brexit legislation has to pass all stages of the Houses of the Oireachtas by March 15 before it is then signed by the President by March 29.

While Fianna Fáil TDs have complained that the Government could have revealed their no-deal plans at an earlier stage, it is believed most parties will co-operate and support the mammoth emergency legislation. There are nine areas covered under nine departments.

If there are any problems, the Government has also ensured there are two weeks available to wrangle over the legislation if needs be with opposition parties.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said yesterday that the any impact ahead of Brexit had yet to hit the Irish economy.

“In truth, looking at the Q4 figures, I couldn’t say for now we are looking at the pre-tremors of a Brexit effect,” said Mr Donohoe.

“If I look at what happened in quarter four, particularly in terms of full-time employment as a share of overall employment, it’s still pointing to an economy that is performing well, and if look at those figures and combine them with our January tax returns that also included trading across the Christmas period, it shows that up to this point it may be a case that Brexit is affecting future investment decisions but the figures don’t indicate at the moment that’s having an effect on current consumption.”

Measures to deal with crash-out Brexit

    Some of the emergency measures as part of the legislation agreed by Cabinet to protect Ireland in the event of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal:

  • Welfare: In line with Ireland’s commitments under the common travel area with Britain, the legislation provides for the continued payment of 21 social protection benefits, including payments such as pensions, illness benefits and child benefit.
  • Transport: The legislation provides a statutory basis for cross-border rail and bus services to ensure continued passenger services. Air travel will not be impacted, the Government has also pledged. However, land in Dublin Port and Rosslare has been bought to support increased staff numbers.
  • Healthcare: Current arrangements between Ireland and Britain will be maintained in a no-deal Brexit. This includes arrangements for patients with a rare disease or in need of a transplant in the North. The legislation allows for healthcare eligibility for people living in Ireland and working in the North or elsewhere in the UK, and for UK residents here on a temporary visit and UK students living here.
  • Businesses: Companies will be supported by loans and grants to help them remain competitive and identify new markets. The Government and Enterprise Ireland have held seminars promoting supports. Last year, a new pilot online retail scheme was also introduced for SME retailers. The tourism sector has also been given an extra €7m.
  • Energy: The Energy Regulator has been given special powers to ensure there is continued supplies here, including through the Single Electricity Market.
  • Agri-food and fisheries: A €78m budget support package has been introduced for fishermen and farmers. Funding for Bord Bia has also been increased.
  • — Juno McEnroe

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