Brexit is more than just empty jargon — it will change your everyday life

Whether you’ve been following it or not, Brexit will make an impact on your daily life, writes Political Correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

Deal. No deal. Article 50 extension. Second referendum. Backstop. Norway-Plus. Canada-Style.

Whatever your view on Brexit, one point everyone can agree on is that the deepening diplomatic war is full of jargon. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

Over the next two months, the Dáil, Westminster and Brussels will be dominated by increasingly panicked last-ditch attempts to find a breakthrough to the long-running stand-off.

When Leinster House and the Seanad re-open after their winter hibernation this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will repeat his January 3 press conference warning that they must clear the decks for Brexit protection plans.

While the Oireachtas business will continue in relative normality in January and February, March will be set aside to ensure 45 new laws and amendments bundled into four pieces of lengthy primary legislation are passed before the March 29 Brexit divorce date.

Similarly in Britain, MPs will this week face the mother of all Brexit bloodbaths, with the existing Brexit deal almost certain to be voted down by Westminster on Tuesday.

The situation will force prime minister Theresa May to publish a ‘Plan B’ by Friday that is almost certain to be rejected by the EU, or face the unenviable prospect of crashing out with no deal, or being bounced into an election or second referendum.

The pressure is also being felt in Brussels, not only by negotiators but also MEPs, who are all too conscious of the May elections coming quickly into view, and do not want any awkward Brexit questions putting a smudge on their shiny CVs when they go to the polls.

This three-pronged pressure means that for the next 74 days leading up to Britain’s departure from the EU, your TV, radio and favourite websites will be flooded with serious people in suits talking about the minuscule details of the most complex crisis in EU history.

But despite the clutter of comments, most of those speaking won’t make it the least bit clearer what Brexit will mean for the one person who matters most: you.

Whatever happens come March 29, when all the jargon is pushed to one side, Brexit is set to have a major impact on your personal finances, housing plans, working life and even your weekly shopping.

If the existing EU-UK deal is somehow dragged over the line either in tomorrow’s Westminster vote or at a later date, food supplies and access to medicines will be largely unaffected, as will travelling to and from Northern Ireland, flying through British airspace and the work of road hauliers being sent to the continent.

However, in a worst-case crash-out scenario, ordinary Irish people risk becoming collateral damage, with concerns medicines will have to be stockpiled, thousands of farming and fishing jobs at risk, up to €390m potentially wiped from the tourism economy and claims Ireland could have a €3.6bn Brexit-shaped hole in its budget.

There are likely to be some benefits to Ireland in a no-deal crisis, with floods of new jobs potentially being created as a knock-on effect of major companies fleeing the City of London to set up shop in the Dublin-based IFSC.

However, these benefits are at real risk of being overshadowed by serious concerns that such a sudden influx of people will further deepen Ireland’s existing housing, homelessness and rental crises which are already spinning out of control.

The long-winded Brexit debates over the past two and a half years may have bored half the country to tears and made the other half break down and cry.

But, beneath the layers upon layers of jargon lie serious ways it will affect your daily life in a matter of weeks — whether you have been studiously avoiding anything to do with the crisis since June 2016 or not.

Food

Food and drink exports to the UK are worth €4.5bn a year. We import about €4bn worth, so the stakes are very high.

Deal:

If there is a deal, relatively little will change in terms of the existing food supplies between between Ireland and Britain.

While some tariffs may be imposed due to Britain’s departure from the EU, meaning there will be a slight increase in the cost of some UK-based products, it is widely expected those products will continue to be available in Ireland.

No deal:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar quipped in recent days that “nobody will go hungry” in Ireland in a no-deal Brexit, while Boris Johnson similarly joked at a Dublin Business and Leadership conference last week that the only food limits in Britain will be rationed Mars bars. However, it is not that simple.

While Britain will undoubtedly be worse off than Ireland when it comes to food access in a no deal scenario because Ireland exports more to Britain than it receives, daily food products from Britain are likely to at least temporarily disappear from Irish store shelves. Priti Patel’s famine threat won’t happen, but do expect less choices than normal on your weekly shopping list.

Housing crisis

An influx in people and businesses fleeing Brexit risks deepening Ireland and Dublin’s housing crisis.

Deal:

In any Brexit situation, it is accepted thousands of extra people will come to Ireland and particularly Dublin due to firms fleeing Brexit. 

That will force house prices and rental costs up even further and risks a rise in homelessness due to increasing demand.

Provided there is some form of deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy have been at pains to stress Ireland can cope with any increase in housing demand.

This is because in a deal scenario the Government believes its existing Rebuilding Ireland plan will ensure the housing market can handle what is coming.

However, the opposition insists the plan is already out of date and that the problem is being ignored.

No deal:

A no-deal scenario could potentially lead to bedlam, with the number of firms already planning to re-locate to Dublin expected to surge dramatically - pushing an already suspect Brexit housing plan to its absolute limit.

Speaking at an Oireachtas housing committee meeting in November, Department of Housing principal officer Damian Allen said despite Government plans, a hard Brexit poses genuine homelessness concerns.

Noting the fact there is likely to be a surge in firms and people fleeing Britain to Ireland, Mr Allen said “affordable” house prices could rise dramatically due to growing demand and that “very significant net migration” increases could cause a separate housing crisis.

The view was repeated by the ESRI and the Nevin Institute, both of which have warned the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland housing programme has not been Brexit-proofed and will be obsolete if any hard Brexit hits.

Medicines

Brexit risks seriously disrupting access to vital medicines for hospitals, GPs and vulnerable patients.

Deal:

If a Brexit deal is agreed, existing drugs links between Ireland and Britain will continue, meaning there will be no cut-off — either short-term or prolonged — when it comes to accessing medicines needed to treat vulnerable patients.

In addition, the Department of Health, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and cross-border groups have insisted they are in regular contact with their counterparts in Britain to ensure people are not affected.

Similarly, the HPRA and its regulatory counterpart in Britain have already examined a “joint labelling” system for drugs in Ireland and Britain in the event of a deal Brexit.

No deal:

If Britain crashes out of the EU at the end of March with no deal, access to drugs becomes far more complex, with potentially serious implications for the general public.

Drugs manufactured in Britain risk being unavailable in Ireland for either a short or medium-term period, while existing licenses for the UK and Ireland due to the comparatively small market base in this country will be obsolete.

During a visit to Rome last July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted medicines will have to be stockpiled by hospitals to ensure seriously ill patients can still be treated.

However, in recent weeks senior Irish officials have declined to say which specific drugs or conditions could be affected.

Going to Northern Ireland as a member of the public

A no deal doomsday scenario will cause havoc to shoppers, families and tourists alike.

Deal:

Thousands of people living in the Republic regularly cross the border to shop in Newry and other nearby border towns to take advantage of deals. Similarly, thousands more travel over the border to experience geographically close sites such as the Giants Causeway or to visit friends and family.

If a deal is accepted, ordinary punters will still be able to hunt for a deal in the north even though the new customs arrangements could limit the deals available, while tourism and family visits are unlikely to be drastically affected.

No deal:

If a no deal scenario occurs, all of this will change. The likely imposition of customs checks on the border will significantly increase the amount of time it takes to travel to the North.

Similarly, there is a real risk of full-scale passport checkpoints which will further delay matters on both roads and Irish Rail — with the latter group confirming last summer that it is already planning for passport checks on trains.

And while you will still be able to travel to Northern Ireland in the hunt for deals, the ease of doing — which helped make the trend so popular — is likely to come to a shuddering halt.

Going to Northern Ireland as a business

Any suggestion of a return to border checks or a hard border could wipe millions of euro off company budgets.

Deal

Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the number of firms in the Republic conducting business in the North has surged due to the peace process.

Currently 99 “substantial” businesses operate on both sides of the border in addition to more than 7,000 small ad hoc deals every year — interactions worth almost €4bn a year

to both economies.

If a Brexit deal is dragged over the line the positive business steps will continue as the frictionless border will allow the easy passage between both jurisdictions to remain.

No deal

The threat of a return to a hard border in a no-deal Brexit, and at a minimum customs checks and tariffs on goods, will badly damage the current multibillion-euro arrangement.

In addition to the potential new difficulty in operating on both sides of the border, tariffs imposed on items that may be needed for construction firms to operate could cause difficulties. Ongoing trade may also suffer, all of which will inevitably have a real impact on employment levels among affected companies.

The rights of British people living in Ireland and Irish people living in Britain

The rights of people in both countries are set to be protected whatever happens.

Deal:

If the UK-EU Brexit deal is accepted, London, Dublin and Brussels have all confirmed there will be no changes to the citizenship or working rights of people living in different countries within Britain and the EU.

In simple terms, this means if you are an Irish person living or working in Britain you will not be asked to leave.

Similarly, if you are a British person living or working in Ireland you will also have your rights protected.

No deal:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, British prime minister Theresa May and senior EU officials have all insisted the same guarantees outlined in any deal will apply even if British crashes out of the EU without an agreement in place though it may be trickier to implement in practice.

The risk of violence if a hard border returns

A worst-case scenario Brexit risks dragging Ireland back to the dark days of the Troubles.

Deal:

Should the existing Brexit deal be accepted by Westminster this week, there will be no threat of a hard border and therefore the potential risk of a slow-step return to violence in Northern Ireland will reduce dramatically.

In addition, the backstop will be protected, meaning the subtle political nuances surrounding identity in Northern Ireland can continue to be implemented.

While calls for a united Ireland referendum are likely to increase, the lack of a hard border or physical infrastructure on the border means it is highly unlikely violence will be sparked.

No deal

This is one of the most serious problems posed by Brexit.

Officially and even unofficially, Irish officials have insisted the Government is not preparing in any way for the return of a hard border and the potential security risks this will bring.

However, if a hard border is reintroduced, there are genuine fears it will lead to a rise in potential violence in Northern Ireland.

And while British police said last week they will send officers to the north to help address any outbreaks of violence if this is needed, such a move would inevitably throw yet more petrol onto the flames.

The economy

Any Brexit will hit public finances, but a hard Brexit risks throwing us back into a recession.

Deal:

There is no getting around the facts — Brexit will damage the Irish economy.

Even in a best-case scenario of the existing EU-UK deal being implemented, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has warned Ireland’s GDP will drop by at least 4%, affecting businesses, jobs and the money in your pocket in equal measure.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have stressed last October’s budget and the €500m rainy day fund is Brexit-focussed and that the fact Ireland’s economy is now running a surplus will protect us from the coming storm - a view disputed by the opposition.

No deal:

If a 4% dip in the economy frightens you, try 8% and a €3.6bn hole in our economic plans.

During the same Oireachtas finance committee meeting last November where the 4% best case scenario situation was outlined, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council’s official Martina Lawless also said a crash-out no deal will see GDP plummet by 8%.

An ESRI report last month similarly said a doomsday Brexit scenario could create a massive €3.6bn hole in Ireland’s economic plans which risks sinking the country.

While Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has demanded an emergency budget to be considered for this spring to cope with any expected fallout, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar remains insistent this is not necessary.

Farmers and the fishing community

Thousands of jobs risk being lost from the vital sectors.

Deal:

While Brexit will affect all aspects of Irish life, the farming and fishing industries are by far the most vulnerable due to long-standing connections with the British market.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said even in a best case scenario Brexit deal, thousands of jobs could be lost from the sectors due in part to tariffs on goods being sent to Britain.

While this will be off-set by continued “land bridge” access to continental European markets through Britain, job losses are expected.

No deal:

The no-deal situation is potentially disastrous for two of the stalwarts of the Irish economy.

If Britain crashes out of the EU in just two months time without a deal, up to 40% of the beef industry could be at risk because of its export focus on Britain.

Similarly, Mr Creed said up to 4,000 jobs could be lost in the 10,000-strong fishing industry if Britain claws back complete control of its fishing water rights.

While the Government is seeking alternative beef markets to Britain and hopes to find a resolution to the fishing crisis — with Mr Creed indicating last week a potential EU cash injection for beef farmers may be offered — there is no way of ignoring the seriousness of the situation.

Road hauliers and importers/exporters

Forget the British lorry convoy PR exercise last week — hauliers, exporters and importers have a Brexit target on their backs.

Deal:

In its 100-plus page Brexit contingency planning document published last month, the Government said a Brexit deal situation will allow Irish hauliers to continue to travel through the British “land-bridge” to continental Europe.

The land bridge — which is effectively just a fast-track drive through Britain — is a crucial part of the Irish import and export market.

However, questions have been raised over the impact increased customs checks will have on the sector, even if everything goes to plan.

No deal:

If you tend to lose your cool in a normal traffic jam, you may want to look away now.

Despite the mainly British PR about how a no deal Brexit will not necessarily bring lorries and trucks carrying goods to a grinding halt, the Irish Freight Association and the Irish Road Haulage Association have specifically warned of this exact scenario.

Among the PR put out in recent weeks has been the British government’s claim that checks on hauliers’ trucks and lorries will take less than 40 seconds and offer little to no disruption.

Frankly, no one believes a word of it, with both Irish organisations ridiculing the prediction as being completely unrealistic and their counterparts in Britain saying Theresa May’s PR focussed lorry convoy test run last Monday — designed to show how speedily trucks will still roll — was pointless as it took place outside of rush hour traffic.

What does this mean for you and accessing the goods, and markets, you need?

In simple traffic terms, gridlock, not green light.

I work in a vulnerable Irish business, what will happen?

Depending on who you ask, the Government is either ready to bail out at-risk firms or is sleepwalking into a crisis.

Deal:

A Brexit deal will undoubtedly impact on the economy, with border companies, those in the south east who are dependent on Rosslare, and agri-food firms in Cork and Kerry flagged by Government and independent groups as the most at-risk.

However, the Government is of the view that an existing Brexit business preparedness fund involving grants and other supports will be enough to prevent major fallout in the majority of cases — an issue ministers have spent months emphasising to firms.

No deal:

This is where the Government promises get tricky.

While ministers are at pains to stress the supports and grants which are already available through the Department of Business, they will be stretched to the absolute limit in a worst case scenario no-deal Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil last December officials have contacted the EU about relaxing existing State aid rules, a complicated way of saying they have asked Brussels for hundreds of millions of euro more in funds to shore up firms.

However, after receiving a written parliamentary question response on the matter last week, Fianna Fáil business spokesperson Billy Kelleher said little progress has been made on the issue to date — just two months out from the Brexit divorce date.

I work for a multinational firm in Ireland, what might happen?

Multinational firms’ special relationship with Ireland, or at least our English-speaking workforce and corporate tax rate, is expected to only grow due to Brexit.

Deal:

Love them or loathe them, there is no escaping the current importance of multinational firms to the economy.

With Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other heavy-hitters locating their European bases in Ireland, in part because of our corporate tax policy, keeping the companies happy during Brexit will be key.

While the current question marks over what will happen with Brexit have led to legitimate concerns being raised due to the increased difficulties in accessing the British market, it is widely expected Ireland will remain central to multinational firms’ plans.

No deal:

One of the few upshots of a no-deal situation for Ireland will be the likely surge in multinationals coming to this country from Britain.

While the UK government has signalled it may try and make itself more attractive to firms by cutting its own corporate tax rate, the fact that a no deal situation will see the country completely cut off from Europe is almost certain to be a deciding factor.

With English-speaking Ireland still in the EU, and provided our controversial corporate tax rate remains in place, there is a strong belief that more multinational firms — not fewer — will be based in this country post-Brexit.

British businesses fleeing London and coming to Ireland

Banks, financial services and other businesses are already planning to come to Ireland regardless of the Brexit outcome.

Deal:

Even if the existing Brexit deal is somehow passed through Westminster on Tuesday, firms currently based in London’s financial hub are planning to relocate to Ireland.

To date, four leading banks and financial services have agreed to move to Dublin.

They include Lloyd’s moving its EU headquarters from London to Dublin; JP Morgan agreeing to transfer “hundreds” of positions from London to Dublin, Frankfurt and Luxembourg; and Barclays moving 150 jobs to the Irish capital from London to set up a new EU headquarters.

Bank of America is also moving its headquarters from London to Dublin

No deal:

Ireland’s — and particularly Dublin’s — close proximity to London means this trend will only grow if Britain crashes out without a deal.

Although it brings its own problems — namely where on earth to house thousands of new workers suddenly flowing into the capital — the Government will at least be privately rubbing its hands at the opportunity for Dublin to benefit from the City of London’s financial woes in a doomsday Brexit.

The International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) is already a major business hotspot, and is set to grow significantly even if the worst happens on the political scene.

Tourist industry

The Brexit crisis could cost the tourism industry a whopping €390m.

Deal:

In a best case Brexit deal scenario, British tourists are predicted to continue coming to Ireland — but in smaller numbers

However, both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are fearful a drop of up to 20% in British tourists over the coming years could still happen due to the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.

To combat the possible problems, Irish tourism bodies are continuing to push advertising campaigns both in Britain and potentially more crucially in other European countries and North America to help protect the sector from any fallout.

No deal:

Nice holiday? Feeling relaxed? Great, now just the bill, sir.

Asked about the consequences of a no deal by politicians at an Oireachtas tourism committee meeting in November, Fáilte Ireland’s chief executive Paul Kelly didn’t pull his punches, saying a crash out Brexit could cost the Irish tourism sector up to €390m.

Mr Kelly said the figure - which is €130m more than what the Tourism Industry Council officially predicts — is based on a 20% drop in British tourism, with fears the scenario could be as damaging and more long-term than the 2010 ash cloud crisis and the 2001 foot and mouth disease scare.

And he was not alone in his concerns, with Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons telling the same committee rural Ireland will be affected “more than anywhere” — with the West, South-West and border areas expected to be worst hit.

Flying to the UK and Europe

Trips to Britain and continental Europe are facing into short-term Brexit turbulence.

Deal:

If, like just about everyone in Ireland, you want to get away from all this Brexit talk with a nice, stress-free holiday abroad, you might want to cross your fingers for a deal.

Under existing open sky rules, there is no hindrance to British, EU and Irish planes flying through each others airspace, a situation a deal would maintain in a move that would benefit everyone involved.

No deal:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar caused uproar in Derrynane, west Kerry, last July when he said British planes will not be able to use EU airspace in a hard Brexit, but he had a point.

Unfortunately, the flip side of the issue is that Irish planes will not be able to use British airspace either.

Since the controversial remark, EU, Irish and British officials have moved to address the problem, with the EU no deal Brexit contingency plans published in December saying British planes will be allowed access to EU airspace on a point-to-point basis.

This means they can travel to one destination and back to Britain, but cannot travel on from the EU destination to a third country.

The offer is based on an equivalent agreement being reached for EU planes flying to or through British airspace.

But at the very least, it means there is the risk of more potential Brexit turbulence for Irish passengers just trying to get away from it all.

There’s no escape from Brexit, basically.

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UK government cannot throw Good Friday Agreement under the bus, campaigner says

People more open to case for Scottish independence over Brexit, says Sturgeon

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