The Government and the EU remain committed to securing a negotiated Brexit outcome. We have been planning for all Brexit scenarios but in light of uncertainties in London and the Brexit deadline of 29 March, the Government decided at its meeting of 11 December that immediate priority must now be given to preparations for a no deal Brexit and that Government Departments and state agencies should urgently take forward work on that basis.
The Contingency Action Plan which the Government published on 19 December sets out in comprehensive terms, the challenges to be faced and the actions taken and planned by the Government across key sectors in the event of a no deal Brexit scenario.
My key area of interest is the impact of Brexit on the current reciprocal arrangements for social insurance schemes, social assistance schemes and child benefit under the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Last year, I met with the then UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and we agreed the objective of ensuring that the reciprocity of social welfare rights and entitlements, which currently exist for Irish and UK citizens moving within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain under the Common Travel Area, are safeguarded and maintained.
Because of the unique nature of the Common Travel Area and the specific rights which it provides and will continue to provide for Irish and British citizens in each other’s countries, it was agreed that we would formalise the pre-existing Common Travel Area arrangements in a documented agreement. That agreement was signed last week. Under the terms of the agreement all existing arrangements with regard to recognition of, and access to, social insurance entitlements will be maintained in both jurisdictions. This means that the rights of Irish citizens domiciled in Ireland to benefit from social insurance contributions made when working in the UK and to access social insurance payments if resident in the UK are protected.
In addition the General Scheme of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill which the Government published on 24 January 2019 is part of a framework of wider planning and preparations for the possibility of a no deal Brexit, which the Government still hopes can be avoided.
Part 11 of the General Scheme sets out proposed amendments to the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2015 (as amended). These amendments are being introduced in line with the Government’s Brexit priority of maintaining the Common Travel Area.
The amendments give the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection powers to make regulations with regard to a number of issues such as: the treatment of events of facts in the UK as they relate to claims and payments; taking account of social insurance contributions for the purposes of determining eligibility for social insurance payments; the avoidance of multiple payments; arrangements regarding frontier workers; and the appropriate the exchange of information with the proper authorities in the UK (in accordance with the provisions of the GDPR).