Belfast Telegraph

NI facing blackouts if there's no-deal Brexit, warns UK Government

By PA political staff

A no-deal Brexit could threaten electricity blackouts in Northern Ireland, disrupt Channel Tunnel rail services and cost the UK free trade agreements with more than 70 non-EU countries around the world, the Government has warned.

The latest round of guidance papers issued by Whitehall departments highlighted rafts of bureaucratic and logistical problems which could be thrown up if the UK crashes out of the EU next March without a deal.

The 29 papers made up the final tranche of a total 104 documents spelling out preparations which the Government believes companies, organisations and individuals should be making for the possibility of a disorderly exit from the EU.

Their publication was completed just five days before the European Council summit in Brussels at which it is hoped that a withdrawal agreement will be struck.

An array of possible problems included:

l Professionals like doctors, pharmacists and architects will no longer have their qualifications automatically recognised in the EU;

l Livestock breeders could lose entitlements to extend programmes on the continent;

l The cost of imported caviar and fashion items made from animal skins could rise;

l The UK export trade in rough diamonds could stop.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said: "Securing a good deal with our EU partners remains our top priority.

"But if the EU doesn't match the ambition and pragmatism we've shown, we have the plans in place to avoid, mitigate or manage the risk of no-deal - and make a success of Brexit."

However, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said that ministers had "barely scratched the surface" of what would need to be done in the event of no-deal.

"The Government has yet to admit that a no-deal would require a raft of substantial legislation to be rushed through Parliament, crucial stop-gap agreements with the EU on matters relating to Northern Ireland and security, and the recruitment of thousands of customs officials," said Sir Keir.

"None of this is going to be done or ready by March 2019.

"The truth is the only reason the Tories are talking about no-deal is because their civil war on Europe has put any chance of a good deal for Britain at risk. It's time ministers stopped arguing with themselves and put the national interest first."

One preparation document released by the Department for Business acknowledged that there was a risk that the single electricity market on the island of Ireland "may not be able to continue" in a no-deal scenario, risking blackouts north of the border.

Another paper, from the Department for International Trade, said the UK would lose the benefits of about 40 EU agreements delivering preferential tariffs and enhanced market access to more than 70 non-EU countries, which between them account for 12% of Britain's trade.

"In the event of a 'no-deal', EU trade agreements will cease to apply to the UK when we leave the EU," it warned.

DIT said that, in its preparations for Brexit, it is seeking to forge new bilateral deals with 70 countries currently covered by EU trade agreements which will be "identical or substantially the same" as those Britain is giving up.

It warned that, even if such deals are reached, there may be "practical changes" to the way trade takes place with each country. It confirmed if these are not in place in time for a no-deal Brexit, exports and imports to the countries will be subject to tariffs under World Trade Organisation rules.

SNP Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins said the technical papers should serve as a "wake-up call".

"Day by day the price of a Tory hard Brexit becomes clearer," said Mr Gethins.

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