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Tánaiste's Statements on the Government's Brexit Preparedness

Statements on the Government’s Brexit Preparedness

Opening Statement by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

22 January 2019

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Cathaoirleach,

 

I want to begin by saying that the Government condemns in the strongest possible terms Saturday’s car bomb attack in Derry. I spoke to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland yesterday.  The police investigation is ongoing to bring to justice those who were behind this act of terror.

 

Such violence has been rejected by the people of this island again and again. The group which carried this out cannot claim in any way to be acting on behalf of the Irish people. I know Senators from all parties and none will share in this condemnation – there can be no returning to the dark days of times past on this island.

 

 

 

Cathaoirleach,

 

The Brexit process in the UK is at a critical juncture. The Government regretted the outcome of last week’s vote in the House of Commons on the Withdrawal Agreement, even if the outcome itself was not a surprise.

 

Prime Minister May yesterday stated her continuing commitment to the Withdrawal Agreement and said she would continue efforts to build the necessary support in Westminster. The British political and parliamentary process will take some time to play out. What we will need is for the UK to make clear, on the basis of the outcome of that process, how it proposes to move forward. Only then can the EU consider how to respond. 

 

As Senators know, the backstop is an insurance policy to ensure that there is no hard border on this island following Brexit. It an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement. However, it is our strong hope that a comprehensive and ambitious future relationship agreement will achieve the same end and ensure that the backstop is never triggered.

 

Our EU partners have been consistently supportive and understanding of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and of the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Their solidarity has been consistent throughout the negotiations. This was reaffirmed to me by Michel Barnier yesterday – and the unambiguous message remains that there can be no Withdrawal Agreement without the backstop. And – lest there be any doubt – there should be absolute clarity too that the EU negotiates as one, and this united approach will remain intact until the end of the process.

 

Domestically, preparing for Brexit, and for the possibility of a no deal Brexit, is a whole of Government priority. Our planning began ahead of the UK referendum, and in recent months has become more focussed on our no deal plans.

 

We are all deeply aware of the potentially profound political, economic and trade impacts of a no deal Brexit.

 

The Government is taking very clear steps to mitigate these impacts. But given the scale and uncertainty surrounding a no deal Brexit, we must all recognise that – if this outcome materialises - there will be significant disruption and change.

 

This requires a response from Government but also preparations by businesses and other affected sectors – with the advice and support that Government is giving.

 

Since July 2018, the Government has made a number of key decisions on Brexit preparedness including on staffing, ICT and infrastructure at the ports and airports. In light of the risks of a no deal Brexit, this work is now being accelerated and, where necessary, interim measures are being put in place.

 

On 19 December, the Government published its Contingency Action Plan, setting out its approach to dealing with a no deal Brexit. And you will already have seen the further intensification of preparations throughout the month of January. 

 

We are working on the preparation of temporary sites and infrastructure at the ports and airports and on accelerated staffing plans through recruitment and redeployment.

 

Cabinet has earlier this month – and again today - advanced work on the legislation necessary across a range of areas to mitigate the damaging effects of a no deal Brexit.

 

As the House is aware, it is proposed to group all the legislation across different sectors into one omnibus Bill. This Bill will have 17 parts focused on the broad themes of protecting the citizen and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs. This will be complemented by a range of measures by way of Statutory Instrument.

 

I look forward to working very closely with all parties and Members in the Oireachtas to ensure that this necessary Brexit legislation will pass through the Oireachtas in a manner which allows for necessary scrutiny but also ensures its passage before 29 March 2019.

 

Our membership of the EU and the stability and solidarity it brings are central to our preparations. The approach in areas of EU competence has included the publication of over 80 separate stakeholder notices to assist businesses and citizens in their preparations.

 

The Commission Contingency Actions Plans have provided some welcome reassurance in areas such as aviation and road haulage but have also emphasised the significant disruption of a no deal Brexit. These plans have also helped to guide our domestic response.

 

Stakeholder engagement is critical too. We will be convening a fifth plenary session of the All-Island Civic Dialogue for Friday 15 February in Dublin Castle. These Dialogues have been an invaluable opportunity to hear directly about the all-island implications of Brexit, from a variety of stakeholders and across a wide range of sectors.    

 

Colleagues, a no deal outcome is not the one that we want. But given the ongoing political uncertainty in London, it is only prudent at this stage to intensify our preparations on a no deal Brexit. I am grateful for the ongoing support of this House in that effort.

 

ENDS

 

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