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Time running out to secure an orderly Brexit

The 70 pages of emergency legislation published by the Irish government yesterday represents an extraordinary document.

It is not just the scale of the measures that will be fast-tracked into law in the event of a no deal.

It is also that despite all the hard work and effort that has gone into drawing it up, the government fervently hopes it is a document that will never have to see the light of day.

However, it is appropriate that Dublin has moved to address the practical issues that will be affected if the UK crashes out of the EU on March 29.

The Omnibus Bill is designed to support businesses and jobs hit by a no deal and to ensure access to essential services and products across the border.

These include the maintenance of cross-border healthcare arrangements, bus services, student support grants and allows for the extradition of citizens between the UK and the Republic.

It is a wide-ranging and detailed document which underlines the complex relationships that currently exist and which have been thrown into uncertainty by the Brexit vote.

With little over a month to go, it is deeply alarming that the Irish government, the rest of the EU, the UK government and every one of us who will be directly affected, do not know what will happen on March 29.

We have to hope that the high risk strategy being pursued by Theresa May will not result in a no deal, but few would have confidence that she has the skill and necessary support to pull off an against all the odds victory for her Withdrawal Bill.

But if the bill fails, there has to be a Plan B that avoids a Brexit cliff edge.

As Tanaiste Simon Coveney put it yesterday, a disorderly Brexit will be a 'lose, lose, lose' for the UK, for the EU and for the Republic.

Unfortunately, we are hearing nothing from the British side that will reassure those worried about a no deal.

It is clear that business is becoming increasingly concerned at such a prospect.

The CBI has warned that this scenario could cost the Northern Ireland economy millions of pounds overnight.

The organisation's Northern Ireland director, Angela McGowan, warned that businesses could face hefty tariffs as trading relationships with customers both inside and outside the EU are put at risk following a no deal exit.

The Irish government is taking steps to prepare for a no deal but there is little sign that their counterparts in Britain are in a similar state of readiness in terms of the legislative process.

Ultimately, like Mr Coveney, we must hope such plans are not needed.

But with just five weeks to go, time is running out for MPs to take a responsible approach that avoids the disaster of a no deal.

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