Thursday, 31 January 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

Eamon Ryan


4. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the analysis undertaken on the effect on businesses here if in the event of a no-deal Brexit border controls were implemented in continental ports checking goods arriving from Ireland; and the measures she has considered to mitigate the negative impact on business here. [4872/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Business)

I am interested in a specific aspect of what might happen if there was to be a no-deal Brexit. Comments in the media last week suggested that not applying a hard North-South Border might lead to circumstances in which goods coming from Ireland would be checked in the ports of Rotterdam, Calais and elsewhere. What preparations or plans has the Department made for that eventuality?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. My Department has conducted extensive research on a wide range of issues affecting businesses with regard to Brexit. In February 2018, my Department published an independent expert study undertaken by Copenhagen Economics entitled, "Ireland and the Impact of Brexit". This study examined the implications of Brexit for the economy and trade and quantified the impact of new barriers to trade which might emerge as a result of Brexit. The suite of Brexit supports that have been put in place for businesses through the enterprise agencies under my Department's remit have been informed by this report as well as other studies and analysis undertaken across government.

With regard to exports moving directly from Ireland to continental Europe, Brexit will have no impact in terms of new or additional customs controls; the Single Market will continue to apply. For goods transiting through the UK using the landbridge, there may be implications as a result of a no-deal Brexit. To facilitate the import and export of goods, the Government’s preparedness and contingency planning for Brexit has, from the start, included issues relating to the continued effective use of the UK landbridge. This is a priority for the Government given its importance for exporters and importers as a means of access to the rest of the Single Market.

Issues relating to the optimal arrangements and necessary infrastructure for customs and related inspections at ports and airports are primarily matters for the Revenue Commissioners and for my colleagues, the Ministers for Finance and Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Retaining the effective use of the landbridge post-Brexit has been discussed at both political and official level with both the UK and the EU. As a result of these contacts, the importance of maintaining the landbridge has been recognised through the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the draft withdrawal agreement, which reaffirms the commitment of the UK to facilitate the efficient and timely transit through the UK of goods moving from Ireland to another EU member state or another country, or vice versa. In a no-deal scenario, however, it is anticipated that the landbridge, at least in the initial period, may be subject to delays. This will have a knock-on impact on goods travelling to and from Ireland.

The Minister says there is no prospect of controls going into the likes of Rotterdam or Calais for goods coming directly from Ireland. However, the papers last week quoted the Taoiseach as saying that was a possibility. Dan O'Brien in the Irish Independent has raised real concerns as to the impact of that on Irish business, suggesting it could exclude us from the Single Market. Has the Minister had any discussion with her European colleagues, or has her Department had any discussion with European officials, on that prospect? If the Taoiseach says it is a possibility, what preparations is her Department making? How can the Minister reassure us this is not a possibility should a hard Brexit come to pass? Has the Copenhagen economic study to which she referred examined the economic consequences if that did arise, given that the Taoiseach himself has said it is a possibility?

I assure the Deputy that there is no consideration of any such move within Government that there would be checks on the ports in the EU. I think there may have been some misunderstanding there. There is no consideration for that. Our issue here in terms of checks is in respect of the landbridge between us and the UK. I met Commissioner Vestager, the competition Commissioner, just last week, and discussed with her the challenges that Irish businesses, both SMEs and large firms, will face when the UK leaves the European Union and the need for appropriate and timely state supports. The Commission acknowledged the high exposure of Irish businesses to the UK market. She assured me that the necessary resources at Commission level will be available to facilitate a swift response if urgent action is required by the Government.

In terms of the ports, there is a lot of work going on currently to expand capacity at the Irish ports to address the challenges that are coming down the road for us.

If we are to have a no-deal scenario, and if it seems clear from the Government that it is determined not to see border checks coming in on the North-South Border, then where would the checks be that would reassure our European colleagues that all goods coming from Ireland are complying with Single Market rules? Would the checks in those instances take place in Rosslare before goods leave Ireland to go directly to the Continent, or would the checks more likely be done at the continental end? Are we saying there would be no checks on goods coming from Ireland to the Continent? The landbridge and UK travel are separate issues. In respect of goods going directly from Ireland to the Continent, in the event of a no-deal Brexit and if we are not applying checks on the Northern Ireland Border, where would the checks take place?

The Government has been consistent and clear in saying that we will not accept a hard border on this island. The EU and UK both accept that avoiding a hard border is essential. This has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Prime Minister and the EU. If the withdrawal agreement does not enter into force, our objective will, of course, be more difficult to achieve. We are not planning for a hard border. Ireland and the EU have a clear responsibility for and economic interest in the protection of the Single Market and the customs union. The UK has World Trade Organisation responsibilities. There are going to be checks on the ports and at the airports. We have recruited over 400 customs officials and that continues. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has stepped up its recruitment of additional staff for SPS checks and such things. At the end of the day, we have to protect the integrity of the EU customs union and the Single Market.

So it will be on Irish ports, not continental ports.

It will be on Irish ports, yes.