Ireland is facing a fresh Brexit cliff edge with the UK formally leaving the European Union tomorrow night at 11pm, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has warned.
“We will have to make some very difficult choices before the summer because the European Union has already indicated that there is no way that a full future relationship agreement that involves free trade agreements can be completed by the end of the year, there is no chance,” he said yesterday.
Mr Coveney said he and the Government are not seeking to scare people but said he has to be honest about the new threats the country faces.
Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan warned the most difficult days lie ahead and he called on people to “wake up from their slumber” and realise the threat facing the country.
There were highly emotional scenes as the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed the Withdrawal Agreement, by 621 votes to 49, clearing the way for the formal legal departure to take place tomorrow.
After the vote was taken, hundreds of Remainer MEPs broke out into a stirring rendition of ‘’ with its pointed opening line of “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”
In Dublin, the Cabinet met for the last time before the general election, and were briefed by Mr Coveney and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and warned of the stark consequences of the UK’s decision.
At Cabinet, Mr Coveney warned Ireland’s frictionless trade with the UK will end on December 31, and the country is facing a cliff-edge fall into tarriff-laden trade.
He said this is because the UK has made it clear it will not seek an extension to the Brexit transition period, which will kick in once Britain leaves the EU.
He highlighted key concerns to his ministerial colleagues:
- It is accepted at EU level, the UK are very unlikely to seek an extension to transition period. Because of the timeline, the UK has put itself in a straightjacket, and the EU approach will be tailored to that timeline, he said. Moving very quickly to the next phase, he said the Government is ready for what comes after 11pm Friday. He said the EU will publish its draft mandate as early as Monday.
- The EU has concluded that there is no chance a full deal can be done by the end of the year, he warned. He said the challenge is how do we as a country limit the damage. “We will be looking at how do we avoid falling into a WTO scenario, how do we avoid the cliff edge,” he said.
- He warned enormous damage will be done if we do not get as frictionless trade as possible. The status quo is not achieveable in any scenario. He said preparations will have to continue to make Dublin Port and Rosslare fully ready for Brexit.
- He said the imperative will be to ensure the Government implements what has been agreed to avoid a hard border. He said that will involve checks between the UK and the North. To make that work, the North will have to operate to EU customs code and single market rules, he said
Mr Coveney said:
The approach to the negotiations from the EU will be tailored to that time and that will force choices, but it will also force a very intense negotiation very quickly.
On Monday, the commission will publish their draft negotiating mandate, that will need to be approved by EU leaders on February 25, and that mandate will be wide ranging, he said.
In Brussels, there were testy exchanges between parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage who along with his colleagues flouted the rules by waving Union Jack flags before they left.
To loud applause, Ms McGuinnness gave them short shrift by saying: “Put your flags away, you’re leaving... and take them with you... goodbye!”