Thursday, 25 October 2018

Ceisteanna (1)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

1. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the status of the preparedness of the Revenue Commissioners for Brexit; the number of customs officials who will be required on 29 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit; the number of customs officials he anticipates will be operational on 29 March 2019; the extra work that will be required in the event of a transitional period being agreed to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44279/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Finance)

This question relates to the preparedness of the Revenue Commissioners for Brexit and, in particular, for all possible scenarios. I understand they have informed the Minister they require 600 additional staff in the scenario of an orderly Brexit where a deal is done and then there is a transition period up to the end 2020. It appears we will fall well short of that by March of next year. I hope the Minister can give a House an update on that matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question. I am advised by Revenue that its Brexit contingency plans are progressing well. Revenue's priority to date has been on upgrading relevant IT systems to have the most advanced systems possible to support and facilitate smooth and efficient trade flows. Performance testing is now well advanced and I am assured by Revenue that based on the work completed to date it is confident that the various IT systems will support the expected additional workload arising from Brexit, ensuring customs processes can continue to operate effectively and efficiently in a post-Brexit environment.

Allied to this upgrading of IT systems, I am advised by Revenue that it continues to bring to the attention of trade the range of authorisations and simplifications provided for within the Union customs code, UCC. These authorisations and simplifications facilitate legitimate trade to operate in the most efficient way possible. I am aware that Revenue is meeting with trade and business representative groups and attending industry seminars to discuss the supply chain challenges that can arise for business from Brexit and how the authorisations or simplifications available under the UCC could potentially contribute to meeting those challenges.

Revenue has determined that it will require an additional 600 staff as a result of Brexit. In line with the Government decision of September, Revenue has a comprehensive campaign in place to recruit these additional resources. Internal, interdepartmental and open recruitment campaigns are well under way. An open recruitment campaign undertaken by the Public Appointments Service commenced on 11 September and attracted more than 3,000 applications. Interviews are now under way.

I am assured that Revenue’s plans are on track for the first 200 additional trade facilitation staff to be trained and in place by 29 March 2019. These staff will be assigned to trade facilitation work in the ports and airports and to support trade and business in undertaking an appropriate level of Brexit related preparation.

I will cut to the chase on this one. Revenue has told the Minister it requires 600 additional staff in the scenario of an orderly Brexit and a transition period to the end of 2020. When does it need those 600 staff by? Is it by March of next year or by the end of 2020? The Government will deliver 200 additional staff by the end of March 2019, which is well short of the 600 required, being just one third of the number requested. That is all in the context of a deal being done. What extra resources does Revenue need if this all goes wrong? If we have a cliff-edge Brexit and there is no deal by the end of March 2019, has Revenue given the Minister an estimate of the extra resources it would require in that scenario? If 600 additional staff are required in case of an orderly Brexit, a transition period and a future trade deal between EU and the UK, what number is required if there is no deal? Presumably it will be a significantly larger number. I hope the Minister can give the House clarity on that matter.

I will answer the different questions the Deputy has put to me. The staff the Government will make available to the Revenue Commissioners is in line with what they have requested, namely, 200 staff to be in place by that point in March next year. Our aim then would be to recruit the balance of the staff in the period after that across a transitionary period. The objective of the European Union and the UK is to reach agreement on a transitionary period.

What we will be doing, as indicated in my initial answer to the Deputy, is that we have provision available in relation to use of staff that are already employed by the Revenue Commissioners in relation to setting up panels. Some 3,000 people have now applied for these roles, which is of help.

In the event of a no-deal scenario being reached and a disorderly Brexit, the consequences of that will stretch well beyond resourcing. Political and policy choices will have to be made by the European Union as a whole in relation to this because of the challenges that all member states will face. All of the resource needs that I have been asked to meet I will meet and we will ensure that staff are in place by the deadlines that have been asked for by the Revenue Commissioners and communicated in the Government decision to date.

I thank the Minister for his reply but I must put that "what if" question. If that arises it will go well beyond resource implications, which it will. I assume the Revenue Commissioners, which is a competent professional body, have given the Minister its assessment of what is required by March 2019, in the event of a cliff edge Brexit. It will go well beyond the 600 figure that they have put on it, in the context of a deal or a transition period and a future trade deal between the EU and the UK. Could the Minister answer that straight question as to whether they have given the Minister an assessment of what is required in the event of no deal by March of next year, which is coming around the corner fairly quickly at this stage?

The Minister has clarified that in relation to the 600, they had only asked for 200 by March of 2019 under the central scenario of an orderly Brexit and a transition period. I ask the Minister to confirm the position.

As already mentioned, we are providing staff and resourcing in line with the central scenario and the request that has been placed on me.

We are engaging in evaluation of what could happen in a no deal scenario. The consequences of being in that place stretch beyond resourcing for all of the European Union. In that place and contingency the provisions that are open to us regarding use of existing staff and interdepartmental panels will then be used. This is why the work in relation to the evaluation and upscaling of our IT systems is so important. We will have a technology platform that will be able to deal with the different scenarios. In the event of us getting to a point where an agreement is not in place, which everybody is working to avoid, the consequences for the European Union as a whole will be exceptionally significant.

The first area of guidance in relation to this is where the European Commission is looking at different papers as to how different member states will handle a no deal scenario in different policy areas. We would have to get an indication from the Article 50 task force that we are in a no deal spectrum. To date that guidance has not been provided.