‘Serious questions’ if no progress on Brexit backstop

The Government will be asking “serious questions” if significant progress is not made on the Brexit backstop issue by June, the Tánaiste has said.

Simon Coveney has put it up to British prime minister Theresa May to come forward with solid proposals around the Irish border and strongly suggested a withdrawal agreement will not be signed if this is not achieved.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Coveney said: “It’s up to the British government to come forward with their proposals that have the same outcome in terms of what was committed to in paragraph 49 in terms of maintaining full alignment with the rules of the customs union to avoid any hard border.

“Ireland asked for a review of guidelines in June so that we would be able to reassess the approach of the British government on a whole range of issues before any deal can be concluded in October.

“If there is no progress or no significant effort at making progress in relation to a backstop that can provide reassurance to the Irish Government by June, then I do think we will have to ask some serious questions. Because if it is not possible by June is it going to be possible by October,” said Mr Coveney.

Meanwhile, the Government has opened a €300m Brexit loan scheme to Irish businesses in a bid to help them weather Brexit. Loans of between €25,000 and €1.5m will be offered at a rate of 4% or less and will be available through Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and AIB.

Launching the scheme, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, said: “I would urge businesses to look at what they are doing at the minute, identify the risks and mitigate for those risks.

“They need to look at their products, they need to invest in innovative products, they need to look at their competitiveness and they need to look at diversifying into new markets, so this is what this type of funding allows them to do, it supports them in terms of looking at new markets and to invest in new products,” she said.

Some €14m was secured in last October’s Budget, together with €9m by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, for the Brexit loan scheme. At least 40% of the funds will be available to food businesses.

But Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said the loan scheme will be successful only if it is competitive.

“I do have concerns regarding the high interest rate that is associated with this scheme,” he said.

“The whole purpose of this scheme is to help Irish businesses gain a competitive edge. How can this be achieved when the interest rate attached to the loan scheme is double that of other EU countries?”

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