As I have previously advised the House in my response to Dáil Question No. 592 of 11 December last, negotiations on both the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the framework for the EU-UK future relationship, were conducted on behalf of the EU27 by the EU's Chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the Commission's Article 50 Taskforce. Ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, remains the only viable solution on the table that avoids any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, fully protects the Good Friday Agreement, safeguards North-South Cooperation, and preserves the all-island economy, as well the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. Responsibility for avoiding a no deal outcome lies with the UK.
Brexit remains a priority issue for this Government, and the Taoiseach, my cabinet colleagues and I continue to engage with EU partners and the UK to advance Ireland’s priorities. Extensive Brexit preparedness and contingency planning has been undertaken across Government. The Brexit Contingency Action Plan Update, published on 9 July, reflects the extensive work which has taken place at EU level and on a whole-of-Government basis, including the Brexit Omnibus Act, to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. It sets out the next steps to be taken between now and 31 October.
As I have previously advised, in the course of my visit to London last year, in connection with the GB 18 Programme, I met with Matt Hancock MP, the then UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I also met with Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs in the course of my visit to Glasgow in connection with GB18. At all of these meetings, while noting that Brexit negotiations are conducted between the EU and the UK, Brexit related matters were discussed in addition to other matters of mutual interest. While I again met with Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs earlier this year in Dublin, this was related to the launch of the Words that Bind Us project and did not include a discussion on Brexit or other policy matters.
In the interests of completeness I would also like to advise that following the visit of the then Aire Stáit, Joe McHugh T.D. to Glasgow in May 2018, Údarás na Gaeltachta has at the end of 2018, in recognition of, and in preparation for Brexit, agreed a Trade Office arrangement with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. The arrangement, under which, reciprocal trade offices are being to provide business support services to companies and facilitate investment and trade opportunities, will act as a valuable resource for SME's looking to expand their international business to business partnerships.