The Government published a Contingency Action Plan on 19 December last year, setting out its approach to dealing with a no-deal Brexit and in light of ongoing uncertainty, preparatory work has continued to take account of all possible outcomes.
The Government has already introduced a range of measures to deal with the short-term impacts of Brexit. In terms of dealing with Competitiveness issues, my Department introduced a €150 million low-cost loan scheme and increased funding under the Rural Development and Seafood Development Programmes in the 2017 Budget. In Budget 2018, I, along with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, introduced a new €300m “Brexit Loan Scheme” to provide affordable, flexible financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit or who will be in the future - at least 40% of which will be available to agri-food and seafood businesses.
Our enterprise agencies are continuing to work with seafood companies to help them to deal with Brexit through making them more competitive, diversifying market exposure, and up-skilling teams.
My priority has been, and remains, to maintain existing levels of access to waters and resources. However, in the worst case scenario of a disorderly departure, we can expect that those reciprocal arrangements will be impacted, at least in the very short term.
In recent months, I have continued to have regular meetings with my European colleagues, especially those from the group of 8 Coastal Member States whose fisheries are potentially most impacted by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as well as the European Commission. I am also working closely with key stakeholders in the Irish fishing industry and am pleased at the level of unity on these key issues. In recent weeks, the EU has adopted two legislative proposals to help mitigate the significant impact that a “no-deal” Brexit would have on Irish fisheries.
The first proposal is to allow fishermen and operators from EU Members States to receive compensation under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for the temporary cessation of fishing activities. This would help off-set some of the impact of a sudden closure of UK waters to EU fishing vessels in a no-deal scenario. The exact details of how this would work in practice and the funding elements are still under discussion within the EU. Of course, it would be our hope that such measures would not be necessary.
The second proposal amends the Regulation on the Sustainable Management of the External Fleets. The aim of this proposal is to ensure that the EU is in a position to grant UK vessels access to EU waters until the end of 2019, on the condition that EU vessels are also granted reciprocal access to UK waters. The proposal also provides for a simplified procedure to authorise UK vessels to fish in EU waters and EU vessels to fish in UK waters – should the UK grant that access. This proposal is limited to 2019 and is based on the agreement in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of 17 and 18 December 2018 on the fishing opportunities for 2019.
The European Commission are due to report to the Council and the European Parliament on the functioning of the Common Fisheries Policy by 31 December 2022. It will be up to the European Commission, in accordance with the right of initiative, following such a review to propose possible changes. Ireland will again be a central player in that debate given the importance of fisheries to our coastal communities and I would expect that, in consultation with stakeholders, we will aim to build on the current CFP to ensure an environmentally and economically sustainable seafood industry.
Any possible changes to the current Policy, and the timing of such proposals, will of course be influenced by the outcome of Brexit negotiations. In that context, our overriding priority will be to maintain existing reciprocal access to waters and resources. In terms of the wider CFP, Ireland will be working to continue to improve the long term sustainability of the fish stocks upon which we rely and to ensure ongoing sufficient support for such sustainable development of the seafood sector through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
A disorderly departure, that included a loss of access to UK waters, would have very serious consequence for our seafood industry. I am satisfied that, in cooperation with our stakeholders and EU partners we are doing all that we can to plan to mitigate the potential impacts. A disorderly Brexit will be about damage limitation not, unfortunately, damage elimination.