Taoiseach says contingency plans to stockpile drugs while ex-WTO boss says talk of ‘no border’ is ‘pie in the sky’
Ireland is preparing to stockpile medicines because of Brexit – despite being home to some of the world’s biggest medicines manufacturers.
The admission by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar follows similar statements by British ministers that they are drawing up plans to stockpile insulin, vaccinations and other medical supplies in the event of a ‘no deal Brexit’.
The newly appointed Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab also sought to assure MPs, before they rose for their summer break, that there would be “adequate food”.
At the same time, the former head of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy said Ireland would be so badly hit by a ‘no deal’ Brexit it wouldneed special EU financial assistance.
“If it was a benefit then, exiting the internal market has a cost. So there is no way there will be no cost, no way there won’t be a border. If you exit the internal market you have to have a border.”
Asked if there are any borders anywhere in the world where there is no physical infrastructure, he replied: “No. The most open systems of trade which exist are either in South Africa, where there is the South African Customs Union since the early 20th century, and there is a border. And if you look at for instance Norway-Sweden, there is a border.
“So the notion that there would be no border is pie in the sky,” he said.
“This is the reason why the EU has taken the issue of a backstop for Ireland. If there cannot be an agreement on the future trade regime and the UK exits in March next year, there has to be a solution that guarantees there will be no border between Northern and Southern Ireland.”
He said: “On the one side, there will have to be a border. On the other side, there can be no border between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. So this contradiction is there. It’s unresolved and the backstop is the only solution to provisionally or maybe forever, resolve this contradiction.”
Mr Lamy was asked just how harmful a no-deal Brexit would be to Ireland and if Ireland would need emergency aid from the EU.
He said that a year ago he would have said there was a very low probability of Brexit without a trade deal.
But now, he said, he encourages people running businesses to be aware that this is “the most costly” Brexit scenario and Ireland will face the brunt of it.
“Ireland would be most hit in quantity and proportion, and then there should be some sort of EU solidarity,” he said.
He warned that there will be some in the EU who will question why they should foot the bill for Britain not reaching a solution.
“This is something that we all need to prepare for and all need to have in mind,” he said.
For Ireland, he said, the EU is about “solidarity with the smallest and the weakest” and the Irish question resonates a lot on the continent among EU leaders.
He said: “There is a view on the continent that this Irish question is extremely sensitive. I don’t think there is any risk the Irish will be let down on this question.”
“I can understand why, until recently, people have not prepared for the worst case scenario, wishing that it will not happen and trying to not send signals that is the scenario for which they are preparing.
“I think that it is not too late. The no-deal scenario is something we now have to take seriously while wishing it will not happen.”
He said his advice to Ireland is: “Keep prioritising what matters most for Ireland which is no border, and prepare for the worst. Just in case.”
On the question of medicines Mr Varadkar admitted to reporters that there is “a concern” because so much of Ireland’s supply passes through the UK before coming to Ireland – the two countries are often regarded as the same market.
Mr Varadkar was asked if Ireland was going to follow the example of British ministers who said they are drawing up plans to stockpile medicines.
Mr Varadkar replied: “There is potentially a concern around medicines, both because a lot of our supply chains go through the United Kingdom. Some companies see the UK and Ireland as a single market.
“Everything down to the packaging, and the English language information that comes with your box of tablets, is done on a UK-Ireland wide basis.”
Some pharmaceutical companies might see Ireland’s market as just too small on its own, he said.
“So that is a concern that we have and it’s one that we are developing contingency plans on,” he added.
Ireland is the world’s seventh largest exporter of medicines and pharmaceuticals and has a bio-pharma industry 160 foreign and Irish companies directly employing 25,000 people and which indirectly employs 25,000 more.
Mr Varadkar, a trained doctor and former Health Minister, acknowledged many medicines were made in Ireland which should mitigate against the threat.
“Even in the event of a hard deal/no Brexit, it is not that it would be impossible to import from the UK – it would still be possible – but there would be restrictions obviously, so part of our contingency planning does involve making sure that we have a supply of medicines.”
Meanwhile, the former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Pascal Lamy warned on RTE that Ireland should “prepare for the worst” and may need emergency aid from the European Union if there is a “no-deal” Brexit.
Mr Lamy said that although he would have dismissed the possibility as recently as a year ago a no-deal scenario must now be taken seriously because of the current divisions in the British government.
He also said that the idea that there would be no border on the island of Ireland was just “pie in the sky”.
Mr Lamy was the WTO director general from 2005 to 2013. He was Chief of Staff to European Commission President Jacque Delors – who oversaw free movement and the single market – between 1985 to 1994. Between 1999 and 2004 he was the European Commission’s Trade Commissioner under Commission President Romano Prodi.
He told RTE: “To be frank, I am more pessimistic today than I was six months ago. The reason for that is the mess in London. There doesn’t seem to be any majority in the House of Commons for any solution.”
The polarisation between so-called hard Brexiteers and soft Remainers “cannot be bridged.”
“Contrary to what I read in the British press, this is not a negotiation between the UK and the EU 27; it’s a negotiation within the UK between forces that for the moment cannot agree on a solution,” he said.
Britain had originally been the strongest advocate of the internal market and recognised its benefits, he said.