I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 to 108, inclusive, together.
Contingency planning at both a domestic and an EU level is focused on three areas: preparing for a no-deal scenario or so-called “disorderly Brexit”; preparing for a transition period based on the “status quo”; and preparing for the future EU-UK relationship.
While the outcome of the December European Council and the move on to Phase 2 has lessened the likelihood of a disorderly Brexit, very detailed work on a no-deal or worst-case-scenario is advancing intensively through the cross-Departmental coordination structures chaired by the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade. This work is also informed by ongoing stakeholder engagement. Separately, a new preparedness unit in the Commission is considering EU-level responses.
All this work provides a baseline scenario for the policies and sectors impacted, which can then be adapted as appropriate in light of developments in the EU-UK negotiations. In this regard, it is welcome that the direction of travel is now firmly towards achieving a “status quo” transition period. Agreement on a “status quo” transition will provide certainty to individuals and businesses while also aiming to avoid any cliff edge effects between the UK leaving the EU and a future relationship agreement coming into force. The period will provide time for businesses and citizenship, as well as Government agencies, to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU based on the outcome of the negotiations on the framework for the EU’s future relationship with the UK. In this respect, the expectation is that the European Council will adopt additional Guidelines at its meeting on 22-23 March 2018 on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship. These guidelines – as well as further clarity on the UK position, which has been sought by the European Council - will provide a clearer picture of the direction of travel in the negotiations.
In relation to the question of the border, the Common Travel Area is an important feature of the close relationship between Ireland and the UK with long-established benefits for trade and tourism between our two countries. Both the Irish and UK Governments have publicly declared their commitment to maintaining the CTA and to ensuring no return to a so-called 'hard border' on the island of Ireland. The UK’s commitment to avoiding a hard border was restated as part of the agreement to move to phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations in December. The Government’s commitment to that outcome could not be clearer.
An extensive programme of engagement has been put in place to support this strategic objective. The importance of the CTA has been highlighted through political and diplomatic engagement with other Member States. There is ongoing engagement with EU institutions and there is regular contact with the European Commission negotiating team on the UK exit from the EU, including in relation to the specific question of the Common Travel Area.
The practical impact of Brexit on the operation of the CTA is being considered between officials of my Department and the UK Home Office, including at meetings of the Common Travel Area Forum jointly chaired by the Director General of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and his UK counterpart. An Garda Síochána is represented at a senior level at these meetings. There is a shared understanding that the maintenance of the CTA and the avoidance of a hard border is a priority strategic objective for both countries.
The Government’s contingency planning continues to be firmly grounded in the extensive work and outreach that has already been undertaken by individual Departments and agencies, as well as by stakeholder organisations, academics and others. This includes ongoing engagement by my Department with the Garda authorities in relation to the implications of UK exit. I want to emphasise that it is the Government’s intention that the same border arrangements as currently apply on the island of Ireland will continue in the future. There is already a clear consensus that the Common Travel Area would continue so that the movement of people, a matter of primary concern for my Department and An Garda Síochána, should not be affected. As would be the case for any changes in policy or practice across any public policy area, in the event that the final shape of Brexit requires changes in the deployment of policing resources then those changes will be implemented by the appropriate authorities and any budgetary provision made in the context of the Estimates process.