May under pressure on Brexit as former PMs have their say

Business Week: also in the news was the bad weather; INM; and a slew of company results

Former Labour leader Tony Blair condemned London’s approach to Brexit negotiations as unrealistic.

Former Labour leader Tony Blair condemned London’s approach to Brexit negotiations as unrealistic.

 

“No UK prime minister could ever agree to it,” Theresa May told the House of Commons on Wednesday. “I will be making it crystal clear to President [Jean-Claude] Juncker and others that we will never do so.”

May was referring to the European Union’s 120-page draft withdrawal agreement, which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union after Brexit with checks required on goods coming in from the rest of the UK.

“The draft legal text that the commission has published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea,” she said.

May also reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to avoiding a hard border, but, as one of her predecessors in Number 10 pointed out, these appear to be irreconcilable positions.

Former Labour leader Tony Blair condemned London’s approach as unrealistic, and said it was only by staying in the single market and customs union that a hard border could be avoided.

He wasn’t the only former resident of Number 10 to speak up as John Major, a former Tory prime minister, called for a second Brexit referendum in the event the final deal isn’t subject to a vote in the House on the Commons.

Then there’s the current administration. British foreign secretary Boris Johnson drew widespread ridicule when he likened the challenge of avoiding a hard border with introducing a traffic congestion charge in London boroughs. Cue collective sighs.

“I don’t know whether you have ever driven into the congestion charge zone from outside the congestion charge zone – have you?” he asked a reporter. “Do you slow down? Do you feel any let or hindrance? Do you check your progress? Do you brake? Do you?”

While most people, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, felt those remarks didn’t need to be addressed, Johnson didn’t stop there, accusing the EU of using the Border “quite politically” to try to frustrate Brexit.

Irish Rail, for one, isn’t optimistic about a breakthrough. The company is considering ways of conducting border checks on board the Dublin-Belfast train under contingency plans for a hard Brexit.

Buckley bows out at INM egm

Snowmageddon, the Beast from the East, or whatever you’re having yourself – the extreme weather conditions towards the end of the week brought the State and thousands of businesses to a virtual standstill.

The weather is expected to have wiped at least €15 million off turnover for Dublin city’s traders. Business group Dublin Town said footfall was down by about 70 per cent on Wednesday. That translates into a loss in turnover of about €5 million a day, while the damage is likely to have been much greater on Thursday and Friday.

Not even the Irish Stock Exchange escaped the pain, closing early on Thursday as well as entirely on Friday due to the Government’s warnings, and for fear of “any potential risk to market integrity”.

The adverse weather conditions also meant that only a handful of shareholders were present for an extraordinary general meeting of Independent News & Media in Dublin where Leslie Buckley formally resigned as chairman after a long period of tumult.

The meeting also saw the election of four new non-executive directors to bring the board back into compliance with corporate governance guidelines, as Murdoch MacLennan, Séamus Taaffe, Fionnuala Duggan and John Bateson joined the ranks.

First dividend in a decade for Bank of Ireland shareholders

Bad and all as it was, the weather won’t have dampened the spirits of a number of big companies that posted positive results this week.

Bank of Ireland is to return up to half of future profits to shareholders after paying its first dividend in a decade this year. The lender reported a full-year profit of €1 billion for 2017 and announced that it would return €124 million to investors in a dividend of 11.5 cent a share.

The bank also revealed that new chief executive Francesca McDonagh is to receive a salary of €952,000 a year, which is about 37 per cent higher than her predecessor Richie Boucher got. However, as she does not participate in the bank’s employee pension scheme, her overall remuneration will be largely the same.

Over at AIB, the bank posted pre-tax profits of €1.3 billion, down from almost €1.7 billion a year earlier, with overall profit at €1.1 billion for 2017. Senior executives are to get deferred shares annually as part of an incentive plan that will commence in 2019.

In a conference call afterwards, chief executive Bernard Byrne said another €40 million has been set aside to cover the cost of its tracker mortgage redress scheme.This brings the total bill to €230 million.

Insurer FBD meanwhile announced a rise in pre-tax profits to just under €50 million from €11.4 million in the previous year. The company was so delighted with itself that dividend payments for shareholders are to be resumed.

Dalata, Ireland’s biggest hotel operator, is also planning to pay a dividend to shareholders – its’ first since listing on the stock market in 2014.

Elsewhere, Irish building materials giant CRH expects to have close to €700 million to spend on further acquisitions after its profit before tax rose 15.2 per cent to €2 billion last year. It has also appointed former Bank of Ireland chief Richie Boucher as a non-executive director.

London-listed Grafton Group, the owner of Irish DIY chain Woodie’s, saw revenue rise 9 per cent to a record £2.7 billion (€3.04 billion). The company said pre-tax profit rose 35 per cent to £154.5 million.

Finally, food company Total Produce enjoyed a surge in pre-tax profit of 43 per cent to €72.5 million as acquisitions impacted the company’s balance sheet. The fresh produce group last month announced a major deal with Dole Food Company in the US.

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