Yesterday people were riveted by the extraordinary scenes in Westminster Parliament as the British Prime Minster, Theresa May, deferred a vote on the Brexit withdrawal treaty because, in simple terms, it was clear she faced an overwhelming rejection of the treaty by parliament. To be fair to her, in her speech she made it clear that she did not seek to renegotiate the backstop or the UK-wide customs union she had sought in the first instance but rather she was seeking reassurance and clarity as to when or if ever it would have to come into play. Overall, however, the impact of yesterday's decision by the Prime Minister has been to create greater uncertainty and political instability, particularly uncertainty as to the future and the particular nature of Brexit that will ultimately emerge.
While many seasoned commentators, and I include myself among them, felt at the end of the day that a no-deal Brexit would not emerge, I believe we can no longer be certain of that. The scale of the opposition to the deal yesterday was quite significant in itself. Therefore, a significant period of political and economic instability and uncertainty lies ahead. It is in that context that we as a country must be prepared for any eventuality. We have been saying for quite some time that it is our view, in accordance with Government data and information, that the country is not prepared for Brexit, particularly for a no-deal Brexit. The briefings to the House have confirmed, for example, that the majority of firms likely to be strongly impacted do not even have a Brexit plan in place. Nearly 40% of key exporters will fear severe difficulties at the exchange rate to which sterling fell this week. Half of exporting sectors have taken limited preparatory steps with Irish owned businesses being the most exposed.
Government financial aid is delayed and is so far having a negligible impact. One can go through the various schemes that Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and others have put forward. The take-up has been very low. One can look at that in a number of ways. I know the Taoiseach's perspective. It suggests that people were hoping everything would be all right on the night and that there was a lack of real engagement on behalf of many. Has there been discussion with the EU about the utilisation of cohesion funding and structural funding as potential state aids to help small and medium enterprises, SMEs, that rely heavily on the British market, especially the agrifood sector? The Tánaiste outlined this morning that he was bringing a memo to Government. He called it central scenario planning. Will the Taoiseach commit to the House that he will publish the plans about the country's readiness and preparation for Brexit? The public deserves to know about the content of the plans and their implications. The success of any preparation plans depends on buy-in from all concerned.