Since the House last sat on Thursday, there has been a series of deadlocked votes at Westminster which led this morning to Michel Barnier stating, "Over the last days a no-deal scenario has become more likely, but we still can hope to avoid it." The European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, tweeted last night that, following those votes, a hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable. His remarks were effectively endorsed by the Tánaiste’s party colleague, Mairead McGuinness, MEP, this morning in a radio interview.
Nobody wants a hard Brexit. We all cannot reiterate that enough. However, the indecision of the Westminster Parliament may land us in one, either by accident or by design on the part of some MPs. However, the one shred of light is that the customs union proposition may be the most politically palatable given that the division on it last evening was lost by only three votes. The British Cabinet is currently meeting. As we know by now, we cannot anticipate what it will decide. Many businesses, farmers and fishermen, as well as communities on the Border and across the island, are petrified as to what will happen on Friday, 12 April. Last Friday was supposed to be Brexit day but the date was kicked to 12 April, which is only a week away. If what those eminent people stated this morning comes to pass, we may end up, by accident, in a situation nobody wants.
There is an onus on the Government to ensure that we are adequately prepared and to begin communicating what are the plans. We all received a Government leaflet this morning which indicates that without the EU-UK withdrawal agreement "avoiding a hard border will be more challenging and will require detailed discussions". It also states "In that scenario the outcome, including practical arrangements for citizens and businesses ... will be made public as soon as possible."
The Taoiseach will meet President Macron today and the Chancellor Merkel on Thursday. Several weeks ago, the Chancellor Merkel asked if Ireland was prepared for what could be a hard Brexit and stated that in the absence of a deal there would be no Irish backstop. She asked the Taoiseach to outline how the Single Market would be protected between the Republic and Northern Ireland. She urged officials to get a move on. The Taoiseach has confirmed in the House that contacts are taking place between Ireland and the European Commission about protecting the Single Market but that he would not share papers or documents. Is that still the case? What is on the agenda for the meeting between the Taoiseach President Macron. Is it about protecting the Single Market and planning for the event of a no-deal Brexit? Where will today’s and Thursday’s discussions lead this island? What is the Tánaiste’s view on the likely outcome over the coming days?