What is the Government’s plan for Brexit?
The Government is determined that all possible preparations are made ahead of the UK leaving the EU, including for the negotiations that will begin shortly. We are focused on protecting and advancing Ireland’s interest at every turn.
All Departments and Agencies have been charged with making Brexit a priority. Brexit has been their priority since before the UK vote in June 2016 and we have been planning accordingly.
With the Cabinet Committee on Brexit leading the co-ordination, our Brexit planning comprises:
Analysis & prioritisation
Pre-vote contingency planning has been developed into deeper analysis, across all key issues and sectors. This work involves:
- Six overarching Government workstreams, with supporting workgroups, analysing the major national priority issues for economic, political and social impacts.
- Departmental own internal analysis identifying major risks and mitigation measures for their sectors.
- Identification of possible opportunities that may arise from the UK leaving the EU.
As part of this work, a series of research analyses have been commissioned. All publicly available reports can be found here.
The Irish Government has undertaken a number of different types of consultations regarding Brexit. These include:
- The All-Island Civic Dialogue is a series of meetings held by Ministers to hear directly about the all-island implications of Brexit, from a variety of stakeholders from across a wide range of sectors. This process includes fourteen sectoral meetings and two plenary sessions. Click here to find out more about this process.
- Ministers have also been convening other established sectoral meetings – such as the Export Trade Council, the Better Outcomes, Better Futures Council and Food Wise 2025 High Level Committee – to hear from other industry representatives about their views.
- Ministers have also been speaking at key industry events and taking views from a range of meetings held over the last number of months as part of Government business, where the issues of Brexit have been raised.
- There has been ongoing Oireachtas engagement with Ministers and senior officials appearing in front of Committees and as part of Oireachtas business to answer questions regarding our priorities and work to date.
Get further information on consultations here.
The Government has undertaken a programme of extensive engagement, both with our EU partners, the EU institutions, and further afield.
Brexit is top of the agenda for all meetings with our European Union counterparts, both our fellow member states and also with the representatives of the EU Institutions.
Led by the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and with the Minister of State for European Affairs playing a key role, our EU engagement has involved:
- Bilateral meetings
- Meeting with fellow EU Ministers at Council meetings
- Ongoing engagement with European Council, European Commission, including the Brexit Task Force, and European Parliament
- Extensive engagement by Irish diplomats in EU capitals
It is useful to note that there are well-established arrangements for bilateral engagement with UK counterparts, such as through structures established under the Good Friday Agreement and as a result of the 2012 Joint Statement between the Taoiseach and the UK Prime Minister. Under this Joint Statement, there is ongoing engagement to progress agreed areas of joint co-operation. Discussions on the impact of Brexit take place in this context. The two Governments also continue to work closely as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, including in the context of current political developments.
Outside the EU, we have maximised our international trade missions and other international trips. Through our network of Irish diplomats, Enterprise Ireland and IDA specialists, we have confirmed Ireland’s strong ongoing commitment to our membership of the EU and the Eurozone, and our priorities for the Brexit negotiations.
What are the Government’s priorities?
Our headline priorities are:
- Minimising impact on trade and the economy
- Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process
- Maintaining the Common Travel Area
- Influencing the future of the European Union
How can you keep in touch with the Government regarding Brexit?
We have established a Brexit Update email system so you can stay up-to-date with the Government’s engagement work on Brexit. You can sign up to this service here.
This section on Merrionstreet website is also regularly updated with the latest information. You should also follow @merrionstreet and @dfatirl on Twitter for further updates.
What structural arrangements are in place to deal with Brexit?
Immediately after the vote in June 2016, a series of structural changes were required to ensure an effective whole-of-Government response to the challenges ahead.
- The establishment of a new Cabinet Committee on Brexit, chaired by the Taoiseach, to oversee the overall Government response. This Cabinet Committee co-ordinates our preparations. It meets to discuss the economic impact of Brexit, the planning for the upcoming negotiations and our programme of engagement with EU partners, EU Institutions, and with the administrations in London and Belfast.
- After the vote, a Second Secretary General was appointed to lead a new integrated division within the Department of the Taoiseach. This division has the responsibility for supporting the Taoiseach in his work on International, EU and Northern Ireland Affairs. This includes Brexit co-ordination across Government.
- A Brexit team was established in each Department and key agencies. These teams work as part of a network for Brexit co-ordination across Government and meet regularly.
- The EU policy role for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was strengthened, and our diplomatic teams in a number of EU embassies were expanded to ensure our voice is being heard in key European capitals.
- Enterprise Ireland and IDA also received additional staff members to help advise companies at home and abroad affected by the vote.
All of this work was complemented by pre-existing structures. They include the Cabinet Committee on EU Affairs and the EU Senior Officials Group which supports it.
Who is our team for these Brexit negotiations?
As head of Government and chair of the Brexit Cabinet Committee, the Taoiseach is coordinating overall preparations in relation to Brexit. He will represent Ireland at the European Council (meetings of the EU Heads of State and Government), which will guide and have ongoing political oversight of the Brexit negotiations.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will coordinate our input and engagement, with the Minister of State for European Affairs also playing a key role, with a view to advancing Ireland’s interests with our EU partners and the UK.
This is a Government-wide issue and each Minister has an important role to play. As mentioned above, every Government Department has a Brexit team and has developed thorough analysis of the critical issues which need to be addressed in their sectors. Ministers will continue to work with their EU counterparts – both in EU capitals and within the EU Institutions – to understand the issues, outlining Ireland’s position and feeding that information into the negotiations.
Supporting the Taoiseach and Ministers in these complex negotiations is a team of experienced Government officials and diplomats, at home and abroad.
Why do we not have a Minister for Brexit?
Brexit is a job for the entire Cabinet, led by the Taoiseach from the centre of Government. He represents Ireland at the European Council, which will have overall political oversight of the negotiations. All Ministers have responsibility for Brexit within their own respective portfolios and all have their part to play.
What is the Irish Government’s position on UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent speech outlining her priorities?
The Government has noted the contents of Prime Minister May’s speech on 17 January and her subsequent White Paper, both of which provide welcome clarity on the proposed approach of the British Government to the Brexit negotiation process.
Prime Minister May has made clear that she wishes to secure the closest possible future economic relationship for Britain with the EU, a goal that Ireland shares.
In her speech, Prime Minister May highlighted the specific and historic relationship between Britain and Ireland. In this context, she made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland, both of which are welcome.
The alignment between our own concerns regarding economy and trade, and the UK objective of having a close and friction-free economic and trading relationship with the EU, including with Ireland, is also very important.
We continue to hope and believe that the relationship between the UK and the EU can be strong and positive.
Has the UK now left the EU?
No. Until it formally withdraws from the Union, the UK remains a full Member, with all of its existing rights and obligations.
Negotiations cannot commence under Article 50 until the UK Prime Minister has formally notified the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave. Prime Minister May has said that she intends to do so before the end of March this year.
Businesses can continue to trade as normal and people can continue to travel as normal between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Is Ireland still a member of the EU?
Yes. Ireland remains fully committed to our membership of the EU and the Eurozone, and we will be very much part of the EU team in the negotiations ahead.
EU membership remains central to the success of our open, competitive economy and has been the foundation for much of the social progress we have made over the last four decades. The Irish people have consistently endorsed our membership of the EU, including recently when we faced our most difficult economic challenges since independence.
Membership of the European Union has brought great benefits to our country and remains profoundly in our interests. We value our access to the single market and the benefits our exporters derive from EU trade agreements with other countries.
More broadly, we value being part of a Union with other like-minded democracies which share our values and interests.
At the meetings of European Heads of State and Government in Bratislava in September and in Valletta in February, the Taoiseach outlined Ireland’s vision for the renewal and future direction of the European Union. We will continue to participate in that ongoing discussion so that the EU can respond to the challenges we face and to the needs of our citizens.
What happens next?
There will be two sets of negotiations.
The first set of negotiations will be for the UK to exit from the EU. These negotiations are called ‘the Article 50’ negotiations, sometimes referred to as ‘the Exit’ or ‘the Divorce’. These can only start when the UK has triggered Article 50, by writing to the European Council (which includes the Taoiseach and his fellow EU Leaders). Prime Minister May has stated that she will do this before the end of March.
Once Article 50 has been triggered, the European Council will convene to prepare the negotiating guidelines, which will define the framework for the negotiations. The General Affairs Council – Foreign Affairs and/or EU Affairs Ministers from the 27 EU Member States - will then adopt more detailed negotiating directives and will authorize the opening of the negotiations.
The day-to-day negotiations on behalf of the Union will be led by the European Commission Task Force, under Michel Barnier. The Commission Brexit Taskforce will report regularly to the European Council who will be taking all final decisions regarding these negotiations.
The European Parliament will be kept fully updated of the negotiations and will of course have a final vote on the Exit Deal.
The second set of negotiations will be to agree the future relationship between the EU and the UK. These can be commenced only after the Article 50 negotiations are underway.
How long will these negotiations take?
According to the EU Treaties, the Article 50 exit negotiations should be completed within two years. This could be extended if all members of the European Council unanimously agree to do so.
Can Ireland block the UK’s exit deal?
According to the Treaties, the exit agreement should be approved by a majority vote in the European Council, which includes the Taoiseach and his fellow EU leaders. No one member state could block that exit agreement. It is also worth pointing out that, even if a deal could be blocked, that does not mean that the UK would not leave – Under Article 50, it would simply mean that the UK would depart without appropriate arrangements in place.
What about our bilateral relationship with the UK?
It will be a priority for the Irish Government to maintain and build on the strength of our bilateral relations with the UK Government.
As mentioned above, there are well-established arrangements for bilateral engagement between the Irish and UK Governments. These are structures established under the Good Friday Agreement and as a result of the 2012 Joint Statement between the Taoiseach and the UK Prime Minister. Under this Joint Statement, there is ongoing engagement to progress agreed areas of joint co-operation such as the Common Travel Area; Energy & Climate Change; Economic & Financial Issues and Trade & Investment.
The Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister review progress of this joint co-operation at their regular Summit meetings. There is also an annual summit of Irish Secretaries General with the UK Permanent Secretaries.
We will continue to use existing channels of communication, including summit meetings between the UK Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. We will also ensure that the British Irish Council and the North South Ministerial Council are utilised to best effect to ensure that we all work together to safeguard the peace process and maintain strong relations on these islands.
What about the future of the EU?
Though the referendum outcome was disappointing for the EU, the 27 other Member States are continuing to work closely together.
The outcome of the UK referendum, as well as a number of other challenges facing the Union, has led to a period of reflection about our renewal and future direction. Rather than setting new goals, the Union needs to communicate better and deliver concrete results in areas which directly affect the lives of its citizens - such as the single market, jobs, growth and investment, as well as security. The Taoiseach outlined Ireland’s vision for the future of the European Union in recent informal meetings of EU leaders in Bratislava and in Valletta, and he will continue to take part in discussions on this important issue.
It is important to remember the enormous achievements of the Union over very many years. For all its flaws, the EU remains the best structure for advancing prosperity, promoting peace, and confronting the many and complex challenges presented by the twenty first century.
Will the EU still use the English language?
Yes. This was confirmed by the European Commission on 28 June 2016.
How will a UK exit impact on our economy?
Brexit undoubtedly poses major challenges for us. We know that because of our close economic ties, any negative impact on the UK economy in the medium term will have implications for the Irish economy. Much will depend on the new arrangements, including on trade, to be agreed with the EU.
The Government is confident that our economy is resilient. While negotiations are ongoing, the Irish Government will continue efforts to prepare the economy and enterprise sectors. A wide range of concrete actions is underway including:
- Budget 2017 provided an extra €3m for Enterprise Ireland and IDA to intensify their work; supports for vulnerable sectors – keeping 9% VAT for tourism and hospitality, a €150m Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme is making funds available to farmers at low-cost to help address the impact of exchange rate volatility. Also included in Budget 2017 were improved reliefs for entrepreneurs and new shock absorbers for the economy including a ‘rainy day fund’ and more ambitious debt target to cushion against shocks.
- Action Plan for Jobs, 2017 contains a range of further Brexit-targeted measures to support enterprise and employment.
- The Action Plan for Rural Development will help deliver 135,000 new jobs in rural Ireland by 2020, supporting indigenous businesses, investing €50m for collaborative approaches to job creation in the regions, and increasing FDI in regional areas by up to 40%.
- A forthcoming new trade and investment strategy will support diversification and will be backed by an intensified programme of Ministerial-led trade missions. New cross-sectoral strategies for the Asia-Pacific and the Americas regions are being prepared.
- IDA will pursue mobile investment looking to locate or relocate to an EU country following the UK’s departure, including in sectors such as financial services, emphasising our commitment to our membership of the EU and the benefits of location in Ireland.
Given the potential significance of Brexit for the Irish economy and business community, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform delivered a ‘Brexit-ready Budget’, setting out a national economic response. This included a number of measures to support businesses and enterpreneurs which you can read more about here.
Work is also well underway to identify the implications for Ireland’s most exposed enterprise sectors - in terms of trading and economic relationships - of the UK being outside of the European Single Market and Customs Union. This research recognises that the operational, regulatory, and legal context differs from sector to sector, and even from firm to firm. The output of this research will help to inform the Government’s approach to negotiating guidelines and subsequent negotiations.
What are the opportunities for Ireland with the UK leaving the EU?
There will be opportunities for Ireland, arising from Britain’s decision to leave the EU and we will seek to take those opportunities.
We will continue, through the IDA, to promote the attractiveness of Ireland as a location of choice for those companies and talented people who are looking to establish or expand operations in what will be the only English-speaking country within the EU and the Eurozone.
We will, for example, continue to implement our clear strategy for driving growth in the financial services sector and we will maximise any opportunities that might arise.
What about customs posts along the border?
The Government’s position is very clear – we want the closest possible trading relationship with the UK and in particular for trade between North and South. The British and Irish Governments agree that they do not want to see the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
As stated by the Taoiseach, any manifestation of a hard border would have very negative consequences. A key priority is to ensure the continued free flow of trade on the island and the need to avoid a hard border.
Our contingency work is examining all possible scenarios, taking into account the serious political implications of any return to a physical border on the island.
What are the implications for Northern Ireland and the Peace Process?
The continued stability of Northern Ireland remains a priority for this Government. Contact is ongoing with the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive as co-guarantors of the peace process. These relationships are key.
The Government will seek to ensure that future EU-UK and Ireland-UK negotiations give priority attention to the Northern Ireland dimension, including issues relating to the border and EU funding and ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement remains fully in place and respected.
During negotiations we will actively seek to avoid the introduction of any new measures that could negatively impact on the Border region, either North or South.
It is vital that the benefits of the peace process are safeguarded and built upon for future generations, in whatever arrangements are negotiated.
What about triggering a Border Poll?
The provisions for a Border Poll are clearly laid out in the Good Friday Agreement. This is an international agreement and it will not change as a result of the referendum outcome.
The Good Friday Agreement provides that the consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland is necessary to change the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
The relevant provision sets out that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shall direct the holding of a poll if “it appears likely to him / her that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”
There is no convincing evidence at present to suggest that a majority of the people of Northern Ireland would opt for a change in its constitutional status.
That said, the Government will seek to ensure that, in the event of a poll at some point in the future that leads to a united Ireland, that all parts of that united Ireland will automatically be treated as part of the EU (as happened, for example, when East and West Germany were united).
What will happen to the Common Travel Area?
There is no immediate change to the Common Travel Area. People can still travel as normal between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland.
The Common Travel Area has been in existence since Irish Independence. It is an important feature of the close relationship between Ireland and the UK with long-established benefits for our two countries. It operates across a range of areas, including allowing for free movement between Ireland and the UK, and access to a range of services.
Both the Irish and British Government value the Common Travel Area and will work to keep this in place to the greatest extent possible as part of future arrangements. The Government has been engaging with its EU partners and the EU institutions to explain the background to the CTA and how it operates.
There is no desire to limit the freedom of people on both sides of the Irish Sea to live, work and travel freely across these islands.
What about using my passport and travelling to and from the UK?
For answers to a range of questions you may have regarding travel and passports, please see this dedicated page on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.
For answers to a range of questions you may have on social welfare, please see Department of Social Protection's website.