'It's too early for optimism on difficult talks': Coveney

British Prime Minister Theresa May is depicted in a carnival float in Duesseldorf, western Germany. Photo: Getty Images

Kevin Doyle

Efforts to reassure the UK that it will not be 'trapped' in the Irish backstop are unlikely to bear fruit until the very last minute.

Talks between the UK's attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, and the EU have been described as "difficult" by Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

He said it is "too early" to be optimistic about the negotiations and business "should not take the foot off the accelerator" in terms of no-deal preparations.

Mr Cox and UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay are in Brussels with the aim of securing changes to the backstop, which guarantees no hard Border on this island.

The urgency of the talks were highlighted yesterday as car manufacturer BMW warned it could move some production of engines and its Mini model out of Britain.

Irish sources expect a document to emerge in the coming days which will "offer assurances on the temporary nature of the backstop but undermine its legal standing".

Guarantees: Britain’s attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay leaving Downing Street yesterday. Photo: Reuters

The Cabinet continued with its no-deal contingency planning yesterday, including reviewing a fresh economic impact assessment which is set to be published next week.

Minister were told that by the end of this month Revenue will have more than 400 additional staff trained and in place to deal with any potential implications for customs.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will have more than 200 extra staff trained and in place, and the Department of Health will have at least 59 additional staff trained and in place.

Figures were provided to the Cabinet that show the expected number of customs declarations would increase from around one million to 20 million in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

A 20-fold increase in the level of information and documentary obligations falling on business would impose considerable costs in time and administration.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "cannot predict with absolute certainty or absolute clarity what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit".

"I will say - and I am happy to say again - that we as a Government have made no plans for physical infrastructure, checks or controls on the land Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland under any scenario.

"If we end up with no deal in a few weeks we will have to have difficult discussions involving the European Commission and the UK government around how we can protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union, while avoiding the emergence of a hard Border on the island," he said.

However, Mr Varadkar did confirm reports from yesterday's Irish Independent which detailed Garda plans to beef up resources in the Border region.

He said this was not specifically related to Brexit but noted that 43pc of organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland have a cross-Border dimension.

"There is close and ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

"This is additional gardaí and an additional armed support unit for the region of the Border counties, but not the Border per se," Mr Varadkar said.

Meanwhile, a new study has found Ireland to be among the most pro-European countries.

The annual Eurobarometer survey found 75pc of respondents said they are happy with how democracy works in the EU, the highest figure recorded across Europe.

Some 1,004 Irish citizens took part in the study in November last year.

They had the most positive image of the EU, with 86pc saying they were optimistic about the union's future.

Another 76pc of Irish people believe the EU is responsive to the country's needs, the highest figure ever recorded and the highest figure across the union.