Irish firms must plan now despite EU-UK uncertainty

With the uncertainty looming about the Brexit deal, business leaders must start planning for next year, admitted Ireland’s Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar. He said that while politicians can always make “late-night and last-minute decisions”, businesses soon had to make plans for the upcoming business quarter.
He was speaking after the recent EU summit yielded no progress on ending the deadlock on the Irish Border arrangements which were blocking a deal.
The Prime Minister effectively confirmed a small element of progress on the so-called Border backstop (the border between Northern Ireland which is part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland) which would keep the North inside the EU customs Union and close to the single market.
It also now seems that British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is no longer insisting on a time-limit, with an expiry date to be attached to such an arrangement. Varadkar told reporters that the EU, the UK and Ireland all accepted that the backstop would effectively be “temporary”. It would apply only until a better arrangement was found via an EU-UK trade deal after Brexit. “But it can’t have an expiry date,” Varadkar insisted.
Theresa May has insisted she is convinced she will get a deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, despite the recent summit passing with no sign of a breakthrough.
May realises above all that any deal that is made with the EU meets the approval of DUP in Northern Ireland which is propping up her government. DUP leader Arlene Foster has refused to rule out collapsing the UK government if her “blood red lines” on Brexit are not met. She said she was “very clear” in her demands.
“We need to see that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the EU together and there aren’t differences made between Northern Ireland and any other parts of the United Kingdom,” Foster said.
She has described her relationship with the Irish Government as “good” and that the ultimate deal on Brexit would have to be one that “works for our friends and colleagues in the Republic of Ireland as well.”
May infuriated MPs from all sides of her Conservative party by indicating she is ready to delay the UK’s final departure from EU structures until 2021 in the hope of breaking the deadlock over the Border.
Varadkar has accepted that the October deadline for a Brexit deal cannot now be met and talks will continue in the coming weeks.
A deal was still possible in November, there would be a regular summit in December, but things could drift on beyond that point.
As the matter stands, a special summit will not be called for November unless there is a genuine hope of a deal — or talks have broken down and “no-deal” arrangements need to be agreed. Varadkar said the idea of extending the negotiating period was “floated” some time ago. It would need the UK to seek this extension, and all member states to agree it, and he had no comment to make about it.
With Brexit affecting his country more than any other member state — other than Britain — the Irish Prime Minister remains most concerned. He said the idea of all of the UK taking out membership of the EU customs union, with a link to the single market,
were a matter for talks on a long-term trade deal.
The Northern Ireland backstop must stand in the interim and the EU must protect the single market.
He also said he had taken a newspaper report to the summit, on killings at a Border post in the 1970s. This was to show fellow leaders he was not exaggerating the threat of violence if Border checks returned.
In the wake of the summit failure, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe tried to strike a positive note. He said proceedings showed the EU leaders’ determination that an agreement must be found and chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was empowered to continue his work.
Donohoe said: “While the risks are growing, I do believe an agreement is possible and we are very clear what we need in that agreement, in ensuring there is a backstop in place that is legally operable.”
He added: “The Taoiseach (prime minister) and minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, with the support of all of Government, will continue with our work to deliver that on behalf of the island.” (The author
is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at andyjalil@aol.com).