Ireland worried about food shortages if no deal reached on Brexit

A no-deal Brexit — where the UK crashes out of the European Union without a transition plan in place — could cause food and medicine shortages for its closest neighbor, Ireland.

A pedestrian walks past a billboard in west Belfast on December 8, 2017 erected by Republican Party Sinn Fein calling for a special status for northern Ireland with respect to Brexit and no hard borders in Ireland.
Britain and the European Union reached a historic deal on Brexit divorce terms on Friday that allows them to open up talks on a future relationship after the split. The European Commission announced that it “recommends sufficient progress” had been made by Britain on separation issues including the Irish border, Britain’s divorce bill, and citizens’ rights. / AFP PHOTO / Paul FAITH (Photo credit should read PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Dublin published a contingency plan for such a scenario, which has become more likely in recent weeks after British Prime Minister Theresa May had to first withdraw her Brexit deal and then face off two motions of no confidence in her, first from her own party and then from opposition MPs.

“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,” Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said.

“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.”

The “stark” 130-page document opens with a warning that “the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is very real,” adding that “amongst all Member States Ireland could be the most adversely affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and to the greatest extent in a no-deal scenario.”

Coveney said planning was in place to ensure that Ireland did not suffer food or medicine shortages, as the document warned a no-deal Brexit could “affect supply chains and the cost and/or availability of imports from the UK.”

“Brexit has the potential to impact every element of economic functionality: trade flows, supply chains, economic and business operations, the labour market and consumer confidence and spending,” it added.

According to UK government statistics, Ireland is one of Britain’s largest trading partners. UK exports to Ireland were worth $42 billion in 2017, Britain’s fifth-largest export market.

Ireland accounts for 12.4% of all UK exports to the EU, with petroleum the single largest export. Medicinal and pharmaceutical products are third largest.

A no-deal Brexit could cause a “very uncomfortable period” for Ireland, Coveney warned.

Border troubles

One of the key priorities for Dublin set out in the contingency plan is the “protection of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement … and there being no hard border.”

The issue of how to handle the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic has become one of the key sticking points in negotiations over the UK’s withdrawal.

Many have warned that a return to a hard border — with militarized checkpoints and border checks — could spark a renewal of the “troubles,” the decades-long sectarian conflict which plagued Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to the region.

The deal May reached with the EU included a backstop arrangement whereby the UK remains in the customs union, avoiding border checks, if no agreement can be reached before the transition period ends in 2020.

This has infuriated hardline Brexiteers, who are worried the UK will never “properly” leave the bloc. They want to be free of the customs union in order to forge international trade deals that would require the UK to be free of EU regulations on issues like agriculture, fisheries, food standards and the environment.

While Coveney said Ireland was committed to avoiding a hard border, the document was short on specifics of how it could do so in the instance of a no-deal Brexit.

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