Strengthening UK-Ireland relations ahead of EU exit negotiations

9 Sep 2016 09:44 AM

Ireland will not have to choose between having a strong commitment to the EU or to the UK – it can and should have both.

As Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, I understand people who ask: “What does Brexit actually mean?”

It is quite straightforward: it means the UK leaving the EU. We will decide on our borders, our laws, and how taxpayers’ money is spent. That’s what the British people voted for, and what the UK government will deliver.

However, I also want to be absolutely clear as I visit Ireland about what it does not mean. The British people have decided they want to leave the EU, but that does not mean leaving the rest of Europe. We do not see Brexit as ending our relationship with Europe. It is about starting a new one.

And there will be no closer relationship, friendship and alliance than the one that exists between the UK and Ireland.

Today, it will be my great pleasure to meet, amongst others, Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Frances Fitzgerald, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice. These will be amongst my earliest meetings in my new role – and my first to another EU member state – and I am certain they will lay the foundations for an even more successful, warm and purposeful working relationship.

I will also be going to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce dinner, with the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. This will be an opportunity to engage with Ireland’s business community as we prepare for our negotiations – something I think is crucial.

Trade worth more than a billion euro is conducted between our countries every week. That helps to sustain more than 400,000 jobs directly, and more in the supply chain. There are 50,000 Irish-born directors of UK companies. Dublin to London is one of the busiest international air routes in the world, with almost 2,000 flights a week between Ireland and Britain. This relationship is vital for us, and we want to see it deepen and strengthen after we leave the EU.

I am determined that our decisions are informed by those who drive our two economies, and create jobs and prosperity for all. I know that many of our Irish friends will have their own views on the UK’s decision to leave the EU, but I believe – and it is already clear from the work my new department is undertaking – that there will be enormous shared opportunities as well as challenges.

Ireland will not have to choose between having a strong commitment to the EU or to the UK – it can and should have both.

That means taking steps to strengthen the political and commercial ties between our two countries, helping Irish businesses establish themselves in the UK, while making sure UK firms have a powerful presence in Ireland.

One thing we are determined to ensure, as I also made clear when I visited Northern Ireland for meetings with its political leaders last week, is there will be no return to the borders of the past and no unnecessary barriers to trade.

We had a common travel area between the UK and Ireland for many decades before either country was a member of the EU. So the Prime Minister is determined to deliver a practical solution that will work in everyone’s interests.

Along with all political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, we will also continue to work for peace, stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom is a great and strong country with a bright future and its links with Ireland play an enormous part in its success. We remain open for business. We are the same outward-looking, globally-minded, free-trading nation we have always been.

We may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe - and our friendship with Ireland will remain as strong, if not stronger, than it has ever been.