On 17 and 18 October, I will attend a meeting of the European Council in Brussels as well as a meeting of the European Council on its Article 50 formation and the euro summit. I will also attend the Asia-Europe Meeting, more commonly known as ASEM, which will take place in Brussels on 18 and 19 October. On Wednesday evening, we will meet in Article 50 format to discuss the Brexit negotiations. The meeting of the European Council proper on Thursday morning will focus on migration, internal security and external relations. This is to be followed by a euro summit where we will exchange views on financial issues ahead of the December European Council. The ASEM summit will start on Thursday evening and continue until Friday afternoon. This is the 12th ASEM summit and it will bring together the leaders of 51 European and Asian countries as well as the heads of the EU institutions and the Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN. President Tusk will chair the discussions which will focus on strengthening co-operation between European and Asia in responding to global challenges, including trade and investment, connectivity, sustainable development and climate and security.
I will focus my remarks today on Brexit and will also briefly outline our thinking on migration and the issues for discussion at the euro summit. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will speak about the internal security issue in his wrap-up statement as well as the external relations items that are likely to arise.
From Ireland's perspective, the priority is of course the discussions on Brexit on Wednesday evening. The Government has been consistently firm and resolute in its response to the UK decision to leave the EU. Even before the UK referendum we started to examine the issues, engage with sectors across the island of Ireland and fully analyse our main areas of concerns. Recognising the significant economic, political and social implications for Ireland, we identified our negotiating priorities at an early stage. These are to minimise the impact of trade in our economy, protect the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland peace process, including through avoiding a hard border, maintain the common travel area, and work for a positive future for the European Union.
As Deputies are aware, negotiations on a withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK have been ongoing for well over a year. The Government has worked at both political and official level in engaging with our EU partners and the EU institutions to ensure that our unique circumstances and specific concerns are fully understood. As a result of these efforts, the EU negotiating position, as confirmed by the guidelines agreed in April, has reflected all our concerns and these have been at the very centre of negotiations with the United Kingdom.
The negotiations intensified significantly following the informal summit in Salzburg last month and particularly over the past two weeks. I am disappointed and concerned that despite these efforts, it has not been possible to make the decisive progress we so urgently need. The gaps between positions are significant and time is running out for a deal to be in place by the time the UK leaves on 29 March next year.
Obviously, discussion of the backstop was a particular focus in the negotiations which ended at the weekend. From Ireland's perspective, we have been consistent in our position and objectives. We want negotiations to succeed but this will only be possible with agreement on a legally robust backstop, which must apply in all circumstances, set out clearly in the withdrawal agreement.
In an EU-UK joint report last December, the UK committed to a backstop arrangement that would avoid a hard border on this island and agreed that this would be reflected in the legal text in the withdrawal agreement. Prime Minister May reiterated these commitments in March and again last month after the informal summit in Salzburg. The EU presented its detailed proposals for the backstop when it published a draft version of the withdrawal agreement back in March. While the final text was not agreed at the time, the negotiators for both sides, the EU and the UK, accepted that a legally operative backstop for the Border, in line with paragraph 49 of the joint report, should be "agreed as part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, to apply unless and until another solution is found".
The UK has brought other ideas to the table in the course of the negotiations, although it has not published a formal written text. In considering any proposals, we will continue to apply the tests that were outlined by Michel Barnier earlier this year. First, is it a workable solution that avoids a hard border? Second, does it respect the integrity of the Single Market and the customs union? Third, is it an all-weather backstop?
To provide the necessary certainty the backstop needs to apply unless and until it is replaced by a future relationship between the EU and the UK that makes it no longer necessary. By definition, therefore, it cannot have an expiry date. The EU side has been consistent in its position that the UK must deliver on these commitments and the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, including a legally operable version of the backstop, must be included in the withdrawal agreement, or there will not be an agreement.
The task force led by Michel Barnier, as chief EU negotiator, has been engaged in negotiations with the UK over the past year. As the date of the UK's departure from the EU approaches, these negotiations have further deepened and intensified. While many aspects of the withdrawal agreement have been satisfactorily progressed, including the UK financial settlement, citizens' rights and other separation issues, progress on the protocol, including the backstop, and a joint political declaration on the future relationship has been more difficult. At our meeting tomorrow, we will hear whether progress has been made in the most recent round of negotiations between the EU and UK negotiators. We will also assess whether there has been decisive progress on the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol with a solid operational and legally binding backstop.
We are all agreed that the situation in Northern Ireland is unique and, therefore, requires a unique solution, and we all acknowledge that the invisibility of the Border has been of critical importance in reinforcing the stability brought about by the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. The EU side has been very clear that the backstop is essential to avoid any hardening of the Border. As we have said consistently, without a backstop there cannot be a withdrawal agreement, including a transition period.
The proposals in the draft protocol are practical and technical solutions to protect the gains of the peace process and keep the Border open and invisible, as it is today. They represent no threat to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. It is worth saying that while we continue to insist that a legally operative backstop is an indispensable part of the withdrawal agreement, it is an insurance policy and is not our preferred solution to the question of the Border. We want to see a future relationship between the EU and UK, to be agreed, that is so close that it makes one unnecessary once the period of the transition ends. That is the best way to ensure that the backstop is never invoked. However, that outcome cannot be guaranteed. For as long as that is the case, the backstop must be there to offer full confidence that in all circumstances there would be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Of course, the draft protocol is about more than the backstop. An agreement on it would be very important for protecting the rights and freedoms in Northern Ireland and the safeguards set out in the Good Friday Agreement. I believe that a positive outcome is still possible. However, if we are to have an agreement secured, approved and operational by the time the UK leaves, we need to make decisive progress now. At our meeting in Brussels tomorrow evening, I will thank Michel Barnier and his team once again for their commitment, their patience and thorough work. I will also thank our EU partners for their continuing and steadfast support.
This solidarity was reiterated at my recent meetings in Brussels with President Tusk, Michel Barnier and the Chairman of the European Parliament's Brexit steering group, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, MEP. The British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, will speak to leaders tomorrow in advance of our meeting in Article 50 format, and I look forward to hearing her perspective on how she sees progress being made. Michel Barnier will then update the 27 leaders on the details of the negotiations and offer his assessment of the state of play. We will then have a collective discussion and consider the next steps.
While I am confident that the negotiations can reach a successful outcome and can deliver a close and deep future partnership between the EU and the UK, we are of course continuing to plan for the full range of scenarios. No matter what happens, things will be different, if not from March next year then from January 2021. In addition to the actions we took in the 2017 and 2018 budgets, last week's 2019 budget includes a package for Brexit readiness to insulate Ireland from the negative impact of Brexit, including a €2 billion rainy day fund, increased staffing across State agencies and Irish embassies, and increased capital expenditure through Project Ireland 2040. Various programmes to help businesses are in place, including a €300 million Brexit loan scheme for business and a €25 million fund for the agrifood sector. The Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public awareness campaign will provide ongoing information on the latest preparedness, and the Government is doing everything it can to enable this to be a success. We have also been stepping up our contingency planning, including crisis management and possible temporary solutions which could be rapidly implemented. Following the citizens' dialogue process led by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, over the past year, I am satisfied that the budget also provides for the next stage of our future European strategy. It is now more important than ever that we reinforce our place at the heart of Europe and play an active role in shaping its future.
The Brexit negotiations were always going to be challenging and I have no doubt that there will be more difficult days ahead. The only way to reach a satisfactory outcome, however, is through constructive engagement on both sides. We are in the final stages of the negotiations now. Tensions will inevitably rise and it is important that we are united, both as a country and as a Union. I will update the House further next week after the European Council.
Turning to other issues, migration continues to be a concern for the Union and will be discussed on Thursday morning. Having had intensive discussions on the issue at the June European Council and more recently at the informal summit in Salzburg last month, our meeting on Thursday is likely to focus on the external aspects of migration, particularly strengthening our co-operation with partner countries, including in Africa.