Varadkar on billions, Brexit and Budget 2019

The Irish Government will “stand its ground” on the issue of Brexit, but cannot make promises regarding assurances for beef and sheep farmers, according to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking to AgriLand presenter Claire McCormack in an interview recorded ahead of the National Ploughing Championships, the Taoiseach explained that the Irish Government’s objective is to secure the best deal in ongoing negotiations.

“I give them the assurance that, in my role as Taoiseach – the Tanaiste’s work as well, Minister McEntee’s work – that we will do everything we can to bring home the best deal for Ireland and that we will stand our ground on all the key issues,” Varadkar said.

“I’d be lying if I was giving people a blanket reassurance that everything’s going to be OK and that nothing’s going to change.

Brexit impact

“Ultimately this isn’t entirely within our control – the United Kingdom has decided that it’s leaving the European Union, and if it persists with its view that it is going to leave the single market and customs union as well, then there will be changes.”

The Taoiseach outlined that the Irish Government wants to negotiate a transition period so that changes don’t start in March next year, ensuring that there’s a period of transition.

During this period people can adjust to new rules of trade, which would not be implemented for another two years.

We want to make sure that we negotiate a free-trade agreement between the EU and UK that’s pretty much the same as what we have now and that’s what we’d like – because that trade in food and agriculture is so important to Ireland.

Varadkar noted that roughly €5 billion in trade goes from Ireland into Britain, with €4 billion coming from Britain into Ireland.

“It’s a two-way thing; we need to not forget that; but ultimately, if the United Kingdom doesn’t want that, if it wants to change those rules, that can create a challenge and we have to prepare for it.

“We also need to make sure that we assist – once we know what the new rules are going to be – that we assist farmers both in terms of capital grants and also in terms of loans in making whatever changes they may need to take.”

Budget 2019

When asked about what farmers can expect in the upcoming Budget 2019, Varadkar did not give much away, saying that were are a number of “moving parts” still in play.

“We don’t even know what the tax take for September has been yet or where we’ll end up in terms of spending in some of those big areas like health.

“But the basic principles will be that it’s going to be a very prudent budget.”

The Taoiseach said the upcoming announcement would not be “a big splurge, give-away budget”, adding that there would not be a repeat of “mistakes made in the past”.

“We’re going to balance the books; we’re going to keep reducing our debt as a country which is still very high.

“There is going to be extra money for investment in public infrastructure and public services including, for example, the first allocations from the €1 billion rural fund – we hope to have them on budget day, if not shortly after.

“There’ll be a tax package and welfare package as well, and I’d anticipate that farmers will benefit from both things.”