Brexit Omnibus Bill: What happens if UK crash out with no deal?

Simon Coveney pictured at Government Buildings outlining the Governments plans for a No-Deal Brexit this morning. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has launched emergency measures to protect Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, emphasising that the Irish backstop will not be "jettisoned” by the EU at the last minute.

Mr Coveney said his only desire is to see the emergency laws "sit on a shelf" but noted that they are needed to ensure that services, transport and arrangements with Britain continue to work.

A no-deal would be a "lose, lose, lose" scenario for Britain, the EU and Ireland, he said.

And in strong defence of the measure to guarantee there will be no border if Britain crashes out of the EU, Mr Coveney said the Irish backstop is “fiercely” supported by people it is designed to protect.

The coalition's Omnibus Bill crosses nine Government departments and is made up of 15 parts. The extensive legislation will help protect Irish citizens, support businesses and jobs, and secure ongoing access to services and products, the Government says.

Areas covered under the emergency legislation include facilitating continued access to cross border health services, measures to support vulnerable firms, securing the all-island electricity market and enabling the ongoing availability of grants and insurance products.

The emergency legislation will also allow for the continued payouts of different types dozens of welfare payments both here and in Britain for tens of thousands of citizens from either country. There are also measures to ensure bus and rail services continue across the border.

According to a timetable for the emergency laws, they will begin their passage in the Dáil next week with the house scheduled to sit until 11pm on several days while the Omnibus Bill will then move to report and final stage in the Dáil the following week before entering the Seanad on the week of March 11.

Government figures have said this allows a two-week sitting period afterwards if there are any problems before the measures are signed into law by the Brexit deadline of March 29.

Mr Coveney said a hard Brexit would be “a major shock” to the economy and Westminster is the only place which could take it off the table.

He also insisted that Britain already committed, in a political pact in December 2017, to no border on the island and no trade obstacles-even without a Withdrawal Agreement.

The Government is now insisting that that agreement is the "default position" for Brexit and that regulatory alignment between the North and the EU will be maintained.

Mr Coveney explained: “The default position would be to maintain full alignment with the rules of the customs union and single market in the areas necessary to prevent border infrastructure, facilitate an all-island economy now and in the future and to protect the peace agreement. That was very clear, it was a political agreement, it wasn't contingent on the Withdrawal Agreement being finalised.

That original “discussion” and “commitment” from Britain, said Mr Coveney, is very relevant if a no-deal is triggered by Westminster.

Nonetheless, with just five weeks to the Brexit deadline, he also emphasised that the Irish backstop - the guarantee in the Withdrawal Agreement that prevents a hard border - will "not be jettisoned" by the EU at the last minute during negotiations.

As the Government make their plans for the ever-more-likely scenario of a no-deal Brexit, Juno McEnroe looks at the main areas of the Brexit Omnibus Bill designed to protect citizens, services and businesses if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal on March 29

Healthcare

Some 18 sections are covered in health, including allowing continued cross-border access to services, the reimbursement of medicine and care costs and access to transplants and disease prevention in both jurisdictions.

The intention is to maintain the 'status quo' so that a patient, for example, living in Derry but working in Donegal, can still access health care here. In 2018 for example, 6,728 cross border cases were reimbursed at a total cost of over €12.2m. The vast majority of these were for treatments accessed through the North.

Education

Changes will allow an estimated 1,500 Irish students in Britain and 200 from there living here access education SUSI grants.

The Government says that even after Britain leaves the EU, these arrangements can continue to apply to eligible Irish students studying in Britain, as well as the payment of grants to British students in Irish higher education institutions.

Social Protection

Dozens of different welfare payment schemes are paid out to British citizens living here and Irish people living in Britain. These include pensions, child benefit, carers and illness benefits as well as jobseekers benefits. In fact, there are some 132,000 British citizens here entitled to pensions and 28,000 Irish in Britain entitled to the same there.

The legislation ensures all those payments will continue in a seamless manner after March 29 if there is a no-deal. A special convention between Ireland and Britain, if signed by London before the deadline, will also ensure the smooth delivery of payments continues.

Transport

While aviation concerns will be addressed by the EU, the Bill ensures bus driver qualifications and certificates are recognised on both sides of the border. The National Transport Authority has been given extra powers to regulate bus and coach travel, between Ireland and non-EU countries.

Energy

This part ensures the all-island single electricity market continues after Brexit. While a recent British technical note previously suggested the cross-border supplies may be left “without any legal basis” with a no-deal, the Government says the legislation will ensure the “lights don't go out”. The energy regulator will also get extra powers to intervene if there is any “abuse" in the market

Taxation

A significant number of amendments are here, but cover existing reliefs and allowances.

These include, for example, allowing British artists here claim tax exemptions or for special savings to be exempt from taxation. The government say legislation for income tax, capital tax, corporation tax and stamp duty will be tweaked in order to ensure continuity for businesses and citizens.

One measure includes ensuring businesses can file their VAT returns every two months, as opposed to immediately when dealing with Britain as a third country. This will benefit 60,000 firms.

Businesses

It is estimated some 100,000 firms here engage with Britain. The Bill allows Enterprise Ireland give out grants to boost competitiveness. Furthermore, workers rights will continue to be protected. In the event of an employer becoming insolvent under British laws, their employees who work and pay PRSI in Ireland will continue to be covered by protections set out in the emergency legislation.

Justice/Security

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Arrest Warrant system will cease to apply to Britain. Arrangements in relation to extradition of citizens between Ireland and Britain will remain under the 1957 Council of Europe Convention on Extradition.

Nonetheless, there are likely to be more objections with the new changes.

Immigration officers, in considering removing or deporting a person from the state, will still have, in line with EU and international obligations, the power to undertake refoulement (the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees) consideration, in deciding whether a person faces punishment if sent to another country.

Financial services

This will enable British insurance firms to continue to adhere to their contractual obligations to Irish customers for a period of three years after the date of the withdrawal of Britain from the EU.

Miscellaneous

This part provides that the term ‘Member State’ where used in any enactment shall be interpreted as including Britain for the duration of any transition period, in the context of a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU being ratified by Britain.

Next steps for the legislation...

Week of February 25 - Brexit Bill in Second Stage in Dáil

Week of March 4 - Brexit Bill in Committee, Report and Final Stage in the Dáil

Week of March 11 - Brexit Bill in Seanad