The Taoiseach has warned Irish businesses that trade with the UK to be prepared for the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and not to assume that "everything will be alright on the night".

Addressing a conference for SMEs organised by the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation, Leo Varadkar appealed to Irish businesses not to assume that because there had been previous extensions to Brexit, that there would be more time. 

Mr Varadkar told delegates: "If you haven't engaged with Brexit planning you really need to do so.

"It’s not that far away."

Later, speaking on Newstalk, Mr Varadkar said he did not want to frighten people but wanted businesses trading with the UK and Northern Ireland to be aware of the "very real" chance of a crash-out on 31 October.

He said the right approach to take was a precautionary one, rather than to expect a last-minute deal.

Mr Varadkar said that whoever becomes the next British prime minister will face a "harsh reality check", when they see it means they cannot trade easily and car factories cannot trade as parts will not get there on time.

He said he would give either Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson a "fair hearing" and hopes to meet the new prime minister soon after they take up office on 24 July, adding that he would not go on holidays until that happens.

He said one of the things that was being looked at in talks with the European Commission included a proposal to treat the island of Ireland as a single unit for agriculture and food purposes, with health and veterinary checks at the ports.

Checks at business level and the increasing of random checks were also being looked at, he said.

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Mr Varadkar said the Government would not accept any physical infrastructure on the border but was exploring options such as checks at business level and randoms checks and controls to prevent smuggling.

Earlier, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys defended the Government's preparations for Brexit and said a wide range of supports had been put in place to help businesses.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said business owners should consider applying for the Brexit-loan scheme, to allow for help with any cash-flow difficulties that may arise in the case of a hard Brexit.

To date just €32m of the €300m on offer in the scheme has been approved.

Minister Humphreys said the scheme provided a very effective overdraft working capital facility and is good value, adding that businesses were under no obligation to draw it down after

The minister also said the cost of insurance premiums was a serious issue for businesses and consumers.

She said that while there was "no silver bullet solution" a number of actions were under way, which should start to affect the price of premiums.

Ms Humphreys also said the Government was also working with gardaí to look at ways to address insurance fraud.

No-deal Brexit 'exceptionally damaging' - Grieve

Former UK attorney general Dominic Grieve said leaving the EU without a deal would be "exceptionally damaging" and that he would be working with colleagues to make sure it does not happen.

The Conservative MP is among a group of "Tory rebels" staunchly opposing a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking on the same programme, he said while he cannot guarantee that they can prevent it from happening, he believes if the British government tries to push through a policy against the wishes of the House of Commons, it is likely to fall on the motion of no-confidence.

"I don't want to bring down my own government, but it is something I am prepared to do if we got to that point where it was clear there was no other course of action open to us," Mr Grieve said.

He said in the meantime, parliamentarians would be trying to pass or enact either resolutions of the House of Commons or primary legislation, as they did in March, to try to constrain the government's ability to do this.

Mr Grieve said he believed Mr Johnson would be the next British prime minister and if he was successful, he thinks he will "try to renegotiate the deal on the lines he has being putting forward".

Mr Grieve said has serious concerns about the country's survival with a no-deal Brexit.

"The trouble is people are becoming increasingly frustrated and as they do so, rational decision-making starts to evaporate".

He said the consequence of that is they almost start to disregard the collateral damage that a no-deal Brexit would impose.

Mr Grieve also outlined his fears for Northern Ireland in a no-deal scenario.

He said: "I think if we leave without a deal, the risk is clearly there, that there will be a demand for a border poll. If we have a border poll every period of years, that is not very stabilising.

"I also worry that if the border poll were to show a desire for Irish unification, the result not be accepted by some sections in Northern Ireland, in exactly the same way as we had violence because a minority would not accept the reverse for some time. So I think it's a very bad way forward and must be avoided if possible."

Speaking to reporters as he prepared to address the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin, Mr Grieve said that when the House of Commons returns in September, the UK faces a "period of major political crisis" with eight weeks before the UK is due to leave the EU.

Mr Grieve said while he could not be certain the UK would not crash-out, he felt it was unlikely.

He repeated his assertion that a second referendum was the only way out of the current situation.

The Taoiseach spoke by phone this afternoon with Ursula von der Leyen and congratulated her on her nomination for President of the European Commission.

He assured her of the support of the MEPs from his party and said he would encourage other Irish MEPs to support her candidature in the vote in the European Parliament next Tuesday.

He also thanked her for her strong message of support on Brexit, and they both agreed to speak again after Tuesday's vote.

Reporting by Mícheál Lehane, Edel McAllister, Niamh Nolan