Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (41)

Lisa Chambers


41. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to mitigate delays at ports and disruptions to supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25182/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

My question is to ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, as the Minister with overall responsibility for Brexit, about the plans in place to mitigate delays at ports and disruptions to supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

As I outlined earlier in responding to Question No. 36, a no-deal Brexit remains a serious concern and we are preparing accordingly.

A key part of the work across Government has been to put in place the necessary infrastructure, staffing and ICT capacity at the ports and airports to manage the new checks and controls that will be required on east-west trade in a no-deal Brexit. Work has been under way on physical infrastructure since last summer. Temporary infrastructure was in place and ready to be used in Dublin and Rosslare ports in time for 29 March. Given the extension of the Article 50 process, we are using the additional time to develop and refine this work further.

The Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the HSE have all recruited additional staff. I gave those numbers earlier. Following a Government decision to prioritise no-deal planning last December, this recruitment was accelerated. Work has been advanced by Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that additional ICT resources are in place by 31 October. Ireland has also been working very closely with the Commission and other relevant member states to ensure the smooth functioning of the landbridge in all Brexit scenarios.

In its 12 June contingency communication, the Commission encouraged stakeholders across Europe to use the time afforded by the extension to prepare fully. A key part of facilitating trade flows is for businesses to put in place the necessary measures to prepare. The Government has put in place supports and resources to assist businesses in doing this.

Brexit, in whatever form it takes, will have a significant impact on Ireland. Government, businesses and citizens must make the necessary preparations to limit the damaging impact on our trade and our economy. We are determined to be as ready as we possibly can be, whatever the outcome at the end of October.

I do not need to explain how important the landbridge is to continuing successful trade and getting our goods to the mainland EU. That remains the fastest route to continental Europe, despite our best efforts to go direct. A significant proportion of our goods is destined for EU markets. This is, therefore, a significant threat to our economy and trade.

Regarding the work of the landbridge project group, which is chaired by the Minister's Department, will he give the House an update as to how the work of that group is progressing and what is the current situation? What is the situation with more direct sea links with mainland Europe and has there been any significant update since we last had questions?

I am just trying to remember what we discussed the last time we had questions. There certainly has been a major focus on trying to ensure that we can continue to get goods to and from this island via the UK landbridge. We have also discussed with shipping companies the potential need for increased capacity for direct shipping access to and from mainland Europe, if we want to call it that. I am mainly referring to the Netherlands and France. There is already significantly increased capacity this year compared with previous years.

The main focus has been on the international common transit convention to ensure that legal arrangements are in place. That will ensure that hauliers and businesses that are compliant and that follow the necessary procedures to be able to use the UK as a landbridge will be able to do so effectively. That is despite the fact that the UK will be outside of the European Union and, potentially, outside of the Single Market and customs union as well. We have also spoken to the French about trying to put the means in place to ensure the efficient disembarkation of Irish trucks.

There will be significant disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit no matter what we do. Our concern now is to mitigate against that disruption and to try to minimise the impact. That is particularly the case with our supply chains because we know that even a day or two of disruption could see empty shelves in respect of some products. That is a major concern for citizens. We know about the common transit convention and preparing for that eventuality. Engagement with the smaller hauliers has been less extensive than we would like. We discussed this at the Brexit stakeholder meeting.

Engaging with the small hauliers will be key to trying to minimise the damage that could ensue in respect of the landbridge in the event of a no-deal Brexit. If that does happen and the worst case scenario comes to pass the next day, have discussions taken place at an EU level on perhaps having a grace period regarding labelling or a fast-track procedure for Irish goods? I refer to any kind of period where things can continue as normal for even a couple of weeks. Have discussions of that nature taken place? How do we cope the day after a no-deal Brexit?

A number of these areas are EU competences. We rely on conversations with the European Commission on the collective contingency planning that the European Union does together. Many of the areas linked to trade require EU solutions and the licensing of hauliers is a good example. The EU has essentially stated that the current approach will be maintained for what will be a relatively short number of months. As long as EU hauliers are facilitated in the UK, then the EU will also facilitate UK hauliers. That provides at least a short-term contingency solution for hauliers who otherwise might not have been able to use the UK as a landbridge. These contingency plans, however, are not long-term solutions.

Ultimately, the medium and long-term solutions have to be negotiated politically. That is why we need to get back to ensuring that a withdrawal agreement can be ratified in order that we might create the time and space to be able to put this detail in place. While contingency planning by Ireland and the EU might deal with some of the issues, it will not resolve all of them in the long term.