May faces new threat of no-confidence motion
Whether you’ve been following it or not, Brexit will make an impact on your daily life, writes Political Correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
UK prime minister Theresa May faces a new threat of a vote of no confidence as she heads into the crucial Westminster Brexit vote.
As Mrs May faces almost certain defeat on the Brexit vote in the Commons tomorrow, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has warned that he will “soon” call a vote of no confidence in her.
In Dublin, the Cabinet is to discuss measures relating to health and transport tomor- row as the possibility of a nodeal Brexit increases.
It is expected that the Dáil and Seanad would have to sit five days a week with all other business shelved to deal with 45 measures, including strengthened compulsory purchase orders and sign-off on unlocking the budget to dramatically increase staff at ports and airports in the case of a no-deal.
The Business Committee will draw up a timetable for emergency Dáil sittings and will discuss this on Thursday; however, the Govern- ment will push this out as close to the March deadline as possible.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty assured the public the Government has strong contingency plans to handle a no-deal Brexit and vowed the haulage industry would still be “sustainable”.
She said: “We will get and we will issue the contingency plans for health and transport this week, the following week there will be two more departments, my own department will be in the coming weeks.”
Seanad Brexit Committee chair Neale Richmond said a no-deal would put Ireland in an “emergency scenario” leaving it necessary to immediately pass legislation.
Mrs May withdrew the vote before Christmas in the hope that she could muster sufficient support for the withdrawal agreement hammered out with the EU. In a last-ditch attempt to gain backing, she warned of a “catastrophic” breach of trust in democracy if her exit plan is defeated.
Separately Mr Corbyn told the BBC: “We will table a motion of no confidence in the government at a time of our choosing, but it’s going to be soon, don’t worry about it.”
Meanwhile the depar tment of Health said immediate problems won’t arise for medicine supply if there is a no-deal Brexit.
A spokesperson for Minister Simon Harris said companies usually have eight to 10 weeks’ stock already, adding that the Department, HSE and HPRA would be advising against stockpiling
DEAL. No deal. Article 50 extension. Second referendum. Backstop. Norway-Plus. Canada-Style. Whatever your view on Brexit, one point everyone can agree on is that the deepening diplomatic war is full of jargon. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
Over the next two months, the Dáil, Westminster and Brussels will be dominated by increasingly panicked last-ditch attempts to find a breakthrough to the longrunning stand-off.
When Leinster House and the Seanad re-open after their winter hibernation tomorrow, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will repeat his January 3 press conference warning that they must clear the decks for Brexit protection plans.
While the Oireachtas business will continue in relative normality in January and February, March will be set aside to ensure 45 new laws and amendments bundled into four pieces of lengthy primary legislation are passed before the March 29 Brexit divorce date.
Similarly in Britain, MPs will this week face the mother of all Brexit bloodbaths, with the existing Brexit deal almost certain to be voted down by Westminster tomorrow.
The situation will force prime minister Theresa May to publish a ‘Plan B’ by Friday that is almost certain to be rejected by the EU, or face the unenviable prospect of crashing out with no deal, or being bounced into an election or second referendum.
The pressure is also being felt in Brussels, not only by negotiators but also MEPs, who are all too conscious of the May elections coming quickly into view, and do not want any awkward Brexit questions putting a smudge on their shiny CVs when they go to the polls.
This three-pronged pressure means that for the next 74 days leading up to Britain’s departure from the EU, your TV, radio and favourite websites will be flooded with serious people in suits talking about the minuscule details of the most complex crisis in EU history.
But despite the clutter of comments, most of those speaking won’t make it the least bit clearer what Brexit will mean for the one person who matters most: you.
Whatever happens come March 29, when all the jargon is pushed to one side, Brexit is set to have a major impact on your personal finances, housing plans, working life and even your weekly shopping.
If the existing EU-UK deal is somehow dragged over the line either in tomorrow’s Westminster vote or at a later date, food supplies and access to medicines will be largely unaffected, as will travelling to and from Northern Ireland, flying through British airspace and the work of road hauliers being sent to the continent.
However, in a worst-case crash-out scenario, ordinary Irish people risk becoming collateral damage, with concerns medicines will have to be stockpiled, thousands of farming and fishing jobs at risk, up to €390m potentially wiped from the tourism economy and claims Ireland could have a €3.6bn Brexitshaped hole in its budget.
There are likely to be some benefits to Ireland in a nodeal crisis, with floods of new jobs potentially being created as a knock-on effect of major companies fleeing the City of London to set up shop in the Dublin-based IFSC.
However, these benefits are at real risk of being overshadowed by serious concerns that such a sudden influx of people will further deepen Ireland’s existing housing, homelessness and rental crises which are already spinning out of control.
The long-winded Brexit debates over the past two and a half years may have bored half the country to tears and made the other half break down and cry.
But, beneath the layers upon layers of jargon lie serious ways it will affect your daily life in a matter of weeks — whether you have been studiously avoiding anything to do with the crisis since June 2016 or not. Food and drink exports to the UK are worth €4.5bn a year. We import about €4bn worth, so the stakes are very high.
If there is a deal, relatively little will change in terms of the existing food supplies between between Ireland and Britain.
While some tariffs may be imposed due to Britain’s departure from the EU, meaning there will be a slight increase in the cost of some UK-based products, it is widely expected those products will continue to be available in Ireland.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar quipped in recent days that “nobody will go hungry” in Ireland in a no-deal Brexit, while Boris Johnson similarly joked at a Dublin Business and Leadership conference last week that the only food limits in Britain will be rationed Mars bars. However, it is not that simple.
While Britain will undoubtedly be worse off than Ireland when it comes to food access in a no deal scenario because Ireland exports more to Britain than it receives, daily food products from Britain are likely to at least temporarily disappear from Irish store shelves. Priti Patel’s famine threat won’t happen, but do expect less choices than normal on your weekly shopping list. An influx in people and businesses fleeing Brexit risks deepening Ireland and Dublin’s housing crisis.
In any Brexit situation, it is accepted thousands of extra people will come to Ireland and particularly Dublin due to firms fleeing Brexit. That will force house prices and rental costs up even further and risks a rise in homelessness due to increasing demand.
Provided there is some form of deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy have been at pains to stress Ireland can cope with any increase in housing demand.
This is because in a deal scenario the Government believes its existing Rebuilding Ireland plan will ensure the housing market can handle what is coming.
However, the opposition insists the plan is already out of date and that the problem is being ignored.
A no-deal scenario could potentially lead to bedlam, with the number of firms already planning to re-locate to Dublin expected to surge dramatically - pushing an already suspect Brexit housing plan to its absolute limit.
Speaking at an Oireachtas housing committee meeting in November, Department of Housing principal officer Damian Allen said despite Government plans, a hard Brexit poses genuine homelessness concerns.
Noting the fact there is likely to be a surge in firms and people fleeing Britain to Ireland, Mr Allen said “affordable” house prices could rise dramatically due to growing demand and that “very significant net migration” increases could cause a separate housing crisis.
The view was repeated by the ESRI and the Nevin Institute, both of which have warned the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland housing programme has not been Brexit-proofed and will be obsolete if any hard Brexit hits. Brexit risks seriously disrupting access to vital medicines for hospitals, GPs and vulnerable patients.
If a Brexit deal is agreed, existing drugs links between Ireland and Britain will continue, meaning there will be no cut-off — either shortterm or prolonged — when it comes to accessing medicines needed to treat vulnerable patients.
In addition, the Department of Health, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and cross-border groups have insisted they are in regular contact with their counterparts in Britain to ensure people are not affected.
Similarly, the HPRA and its regulatory counterpart in Britain have already examined a “joint labelling” system for drugs in Ireland and Britain in the event of a deal Brexit.
If Britain crashes out of the EU at the end of March with no deal, access to drugs becomes far more complex, with potentially serious implications for the general public.
Drugs manufactured in Britain risk being unavailable in Ireland for either a short or medium-term period, while existing licenses for the UK and Ireland due to the comparatively small market base in this country will be obsolete.
During a visit to Rome last July, Taoiseach Leo Varad- kar admitted medicines will have to be stockpiled by hospitals to ensure seriously ill patients can still be treated.
However, in recent weeks senior Irish officials have declined to say which specific drugs or conditions could be affected. A no deal doomsday scenario will cause havoc to shoppers, families and tourists alike.
Thousands of people living in the Republic regularly cross the border to shop in Newry and other nearby border towns to take advantage of deals. Similarly, thousands more travel over the border to experience geographically close sites such as the Giants Causeway or to visit friends and family.
If a deal is accepted, ordinary punters will still be able to hunt for a deal in the north even though the new customs arrangements could limit the deals available, while tourism and family visits are unlikely to be drastically affected.
If a no deal scenario occurs, all of this will change. The likely imposition of customs checks on the border will significantly increase the amount of time it takes to travel to the North.
Similarly, there is a real risk of full-scale passport checkpoints which will further delay matters on both roads and Irish Rail — with the latter group confirming last summer that it is already planning for passport checks on trains.
And while you will still be able to travel to Northern Ireland in the hunt for deals, the ease of doing — which helped make the trend so popular — is likely to come to a shuddering halt. Any suggestion of a return to border checks or a hard border could wipe millions of euro off company budgets.
Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the number of firms in the Republic conducting business in the North has surged due to the peace process.
Currently 99 “substantial” businesses operate on both sides of the border in addition to more than 7,000 small ad hoc deals every year — interactions worth almost €4bn a year to both economies.
If a Brexit deal is dragged over the line the positive business steps will continue as the frictionless border will allow the easy passage between both jurisdictions to remain.
The threat of a return to a hard border in a no-deal Brexit, and at a minimum customs checks and tariffs on goods, will badly damage the current multibillioneuro arrangement.
In addition to the potential new difficulty in operating on both sides of the border, tariffs imposed on items that may be needed for construction firms to operate could cause difficulties. Ongoing trade may also suffer, all of which will inevitably have a real impact on employment levels among affected companies. The rights of people in both countries are set to be protected whatever happens.
If the UK-EU Brexit deal is accepted, London, Dublin and Brussels have all confirmed there will be no changes to the citizenship or working rights of people living in different countries within Britain and the EU.
In simple terms, this means if you are an Irish person living or working in Britain you will not be asked to leave.
Similarly, if you are a British person living or working in Ireland you will also have your rights protected.
Theresa May: Heading into key Brexit vote.
IMPORTS: The Government’s contingency action plan for a no-deal Brexit includes a range of proposals for sectors across the economy, including inspection bays at ports.
FLIGHTS: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar caused uproar when he said British planes will not be able to use EU airspace in a hard Brexit, but the same applies to Irish planes using British airspace.
JOBS: One of the few upshots of a no-deal situation for Ireland will be the likely surge in multinationals coming to this country from Britain.
HAULIERS: Forget the British lorry convoy PR exercise last week — hauliers, exporters and importers have a Brexit target on their backs.
BORDER: In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there is a real risk of full-scale passport checkpoints on the border with the North which will delay matters on both roads and rail.