The Government is to approve a major Brexit readiness plan amid growing fears that a trade deal will not be reached with the UK before the end of the year.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has warned that “time is running out” adding the chances of agreeing a full trade deal in time are “totally unrealistic”.
Mr Coveney confirmed in an interview with the Irish Examiner that he is to bring the significant Brexit memorandum from eight separate government departments to prepare the country for the increased chance of no deal.
It is understood the bill will deal with:
- the likely impact on farmers;
- A new system of checks at ports and airports to account for a post-Brexit situation;
- A plan to aid businesses to cope with the impact of Brexit, in all scenarios;
- A plan to limit the impact on hauliers and other key transport sectors.
Mr Coveney, who retained his post in the Department of Foreign Affairs, said while he believes a deal is still possible, time is short.
“Time is running out, that's true. There's still six months before the end of the year. Six months is a very, very short period of time in terms of getting a trade deal place. There are 11 different areas where there are negotiations taking place, all in parallel with each other. The idea we can get agreement on all 11 is totally unrealistic,” he said.
“What is possible, though, is a basic trade deal that avoids the introduction of tariffs and quotas, which is very important in an Irish perspective, which is what World Trade Organisation (WTO) trading rules would probably result in if there was no deal,” he added.
He also took aim at the British for the talks being in what he called a “difficult place”.
“It's difficult for the two sides to get an agreement when both are looking for completely different outcomes. And the biggest problem here is that the UK is simply not adhering to the approach that was agreed by both sides only six months ago in the political declaration that was signed off at the same time as the withdrawal agreements,” he said.
“Until the British side actually approaches the negotiation in a way that's consistent with what they committed to doing at the start of this negotiation when the when the political declaration was signed, it's hard to see how we make progress,” he added.
For several weeks before the change of government, the eight government departments have been readying plans to adapt to life post Brexit, and Mr Coveney said even in a best-case scenario, “things will have to change.”
But only when the new government was elected could a bill of this magnitude be brought forward.
“I'll bring a fairly big memo to government the week after next in relation to where Ireland is at in terms of our preparedness for whatever outcome may happen in the autumn,” he said.
“Whether it's a worst-case scenario - which is no trade deal Brexit - or not, we have to be ready just in case or other variants of that,” he added. “And no matter what happens here we're going to require customs checks in Irish ports and in our airports, and we're going to have to have other checks as well on live animals, and on standards checks and so on goods coming from the UK,” he said.
It is understood the Brexit memo will be tabled next Tuesday, ahead of new Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s first EU summit.
The key departments involved in the memo will be the Department of Foreign Affairs with Mr Coveney acting as the coordinating lead; the Department of Agriculture led by Barry Cowen; the Department of Enterprise lead by the Tanaiste; the Department of Transport led by Eamon Ryan and Mr Martin’s Department of An Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach and Mr Coveney met last Thursday to discuss the memorandum in depth.
It is clear a new Brexit omnibus Bill will need to go before the Oireachtas shortly to give legislative effect to the plans and that work is said to be at an advanced stage.