Could the lights go out next March?

The inanities of managing Brexit reach new depths.

Times exclusive

Emergency Brexit energy talks as ministers hide no deal plans  

Greg Clark, the business secretary, has held urgent talks with officials in Dublin on an emergency agreement to keep the lights on in Northern Ireland after a “no-deal” Brexit.

Downing Street wants to avoid publishing its plans for a worst-case scenario that include importing thousands of generators north of the border.

The electricity industry has operated a single wholesale market across the island of Ireland since 2007 but it is underpinned by European Union law.

Without legal certainty Northern Ireland, a net importer, could be left short of supplies in a chaotic Brexit. Draft contingency plans, first reported by The Times, include the mass importation of generators, some placed on barges, to ensure sufficient capacity.

One senior figure involved in the preparation of the plans said they were so “incendiary” that Mr Clark had been instructed to find a way to avoid their publication. “When we looked at this we found there weren’t enough readily available generators in the world for what would be needed,” they admitted.

The issue of energy in Northern Ireland will not be among those covered in an initial release of “no-deal” plans by the government tomorrow. Ministers have been given time to develop less drastic contingency measures.

Mr Clark, who met the regulator for the EU’s so-called single energy market this month, is understood to be working on the text of an emergency bilateral agreement between London and Dublin. It would provide legal guarantees to power stations in the Republic selling electricity to Northern Ireland to keep supplies flowing through the all-Ireland grid and address other potential obstacles. Another Whitehall figure said: “Our position will be that we don’t have to prepare for the catastrophic outcome because it won’t happen. It would be in the overwhelming interests of both sides to sign the emergency agreement prepared in advance.”

The government has committed to publishing more than 80 “technical notices” giving advice to businesses and individuals on what to do in the event that Britain left the bloc without a deal next year. About a quarter will be released tomorrow on topics expected to include farming, pharmaceuticals and financial services. Officials at the Department for Exiting the EU said that some of the “more contentious” notices had been held over.

 

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Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London