Ireland plans for no-deal Brexit

Simon Coveney  Ireland reuters
Simon Coveney was confident that Ireland would not have any food shortages, but said the government was doing a lot of planning to ensure no disruption to the supply of medicines. Photo: Reuters

Ireland has disclosed its first major set of contingency plans in case Britain crashes out of the European Union without a withdrawal deal, including possible emergency measures to avoid any shortages of medicines and food.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday described the plans as "stark", but said his government was not yet making plans to defend the European Single Market along Ireland's 500km land border with the British region of Northern Ireland.

Instead, the 130-page document detailed plans to boost infrastructure at the country's ports and airports, and dozens of pieces of legislation to defend everything from the country's health system to its joint electricity market with Northern Ireland.

"The United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal in place is going to cause a significant stress to this country and to many sectors in the Irish economy," Coveney told journalists after the publication of the plans.

"Anybody who belittles the consequences of a no-deal Brexit suggesting that this is another millennium bug that isn't going to have any real impact really doesn't know what they are talking about," he said, adding Ireland would be put under "an awful lot of strain."

Coveney said he expected there would be severe delays to trucks travelling through the United Kingdom from other EU countries to Ireland - the "land bridge" that much of the country's goods imports and exports use.

He said he was confident that Ireland would not have any food shortages, but said the government was doing a lot of planning to ensure no disruption to the supply of medicines.

The document did not touch on the crucial central issue for Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit: How Ireland can defend the single market without imposing physical infrastructure on the border with Northern Ireland.

The government says such infrastructure is unthinkable as it could undermine two decades of peace in Northern Ireland after thousands died in violence between Catholic Irish nationalists and pro-British Protestants between the late 1960s and 1998.

Coveney, who is also foreign minister, raised the prospect that Ireland might ask the European Union to relax or waive some rules of the single market, telling journalists that the issue "will be an ongoing conversation."

"If a no-deal Brexit becomes more likely outcome, of course we will have to have very detailed discussions with the commission" about how to maintain the integrity of the single market, he added.

Coveney said the "very uncomfortable period" could last a long time because of the difficulty of securing a trade deal with the United Kingdom after the damage done to ties by a no-deal Brexit.

The European Union on Wednesday unveiled short-term measures to limit disruption to air traffic, financial services and trade if Britain left without a deal, an event European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said would be an "absolute catastrophe".

With just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May is yet to win the support of a deeply divided parliament for the deal she struck last month with Brussels to maintain close ties with the bloc.

She has said a delayed vote on her deal will take place in mid-January, prompting some lawmakers to accuse her of trying to force parliament into backing her by running down the clock as the March 29 exit day approaches.

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