Department preparations for Brexit called into question

Fianna Fail spokesperson on agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, has claimed that there has been an “astonishing lack” of planning by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for a no-deal Brexit.

McConalogue said it was “alarming” that Minister Michael Creed was unable to confirm how many sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) officials and veterinary inspectors will be in place by March 30 – the day after the UK is due to leave the EU.

“There’s only a matter of weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU, and unfortunately the prospect of a no-deal Brexit cannot be ruled out,” said the Donegal TD.

I am growing increasingly worried by what appears to be an astonishing lack of contingency for the agri-food sector. The Minister for Finance has been able to confirm that 200 additional customs officials will be operational by the March deadline. Why can’t the agriculture minister provide the same data?

“What is also a cause for concern is the fact that only 53 veterinary officials have been hired since the Brexit referendum in 2016,” added McConalogue.

In July of 2018, Leo Varadkar announced that, as a result of Brexit, around 1,000 new officials would be hired to deal with incoming trade from the UK after it left the EU, including 300 vets.

McConalogue criticised the lack of clarity on this hiring process, saying: “The no-deal plan published just before Christmas failed to set out a timeline for recruitment.”

McConalogue also took issue with the current state of the infrastructure at Dublin and Rosslare ports, saying they do not, at the moment, have the capacity to deal with the control checks that would be necessary if the UK becomes a ‘third country’, i.e. a country outside the EU.

In a statement to AgriLand, the department said it had been operating under what it called a “central case” scenario, which envisaged a withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK taking affect.

The department has not confirmed how a no-deal scenario would affect those plans.

As for that withdrawal agreement, the UK House of Commons is due to vote on it tomorrow, Tuesday, January 15.

It is being predicted that the agreement will not pass, bringing forward the possibility of a no-deal scenario.