Tuesday 21 November 2017

Minister warns of retaliation if UK wants trade restrictions

Leo Varadkar Picture: Marc O'Sullivan
Leo Varadkar Picture: Marc O'Sullivan

Eoghan MacConnell and Colm Kelpie

Ireland will go after the same markets and lure EU agencies away from London if the UK pulls out of the Customs Union and implements trade restrictions, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said.

Addressing a public meeting on Brexit in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, Mr Varadkar said there should be no return to a hard border, and that long-standing arrangements between Ireland and the UK, including in the labour market, welfare rights and peace in Northern Ireland, should be maintained.

"If Britain decides to put up borders to restrict its trade, to impose customs, well we will go after their markets - and why shouldn't we? Also we will seek EU agencies that are now in London to come to Ireland," he said, with specific reference to the European Medicines Agency.

He also spoke of the need for a citizens' Europe, arguing support for European integration was falling.

In Drogheda, Co Louth, Housing Minister Simon Coveney was addressing a similar meeting, revealing the Government had "intensively" lobbied Downing Street to ensure Theresa May made specific reference to Ireland in her Brexit speech.

In her address this week laying out the UK's vision for Brexit, in which she said the UK would leave the single market, Mrs May said the UK would commit to maintaining the common travel area.

Mr Coveney said discussions have been taking place directly between the Irish and British governments surrounding the UK's EU withdrawal, and claimed London was pressed by both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan to ensure Ireland was referred to by Mrs May.

he also claimed that Ireland now has a role to play as a "rational" voice between the UK and EU, as he predicted the negotiations would be "nasty".

"Before Theresa May made her speech, there was intensive lobbying coming from Government, to the British government, to ensure that in her speech she specifically singled out Ireland as an issue that needs to be resolved in terms of the common travel area," Mr Coveney said.

Laying out the risks faced by Ireland at the Fine Gael organised meeting, Mr Coveney said it would be unacceptable to the Government if the common travel area was to cease.

He said Brexit potentially meant that Irish citizens, and therefore EU citizens, living in Northern Ireland will be potentially cut off from their own country.

"There are Irish citizens in Northern Ireland who have the right to be EU citizens, who will be living outside of the EU, because everybody in Northern Ireland has the right to Irish citizenship, and they may be restricted from moving into their own country potentially if we can't manage border issues," Mr Coveney said.

He accused the UK of looking for the benefits of EU membership, and none of the responsibilities. And he signalled Ireland had a role to play in the negotiations.

"We have this role to play which in my view goes way beyond our size in terms of importance to try to be a stabiliser and a rational voice to try to find a way forward between two giants, that at the moment are punching each other and that's going to continue," he said.

"It is in our own self interest that we need to do that, but it is also in Europe's interest that we need to do it, because no country understands the complexity of the British mindset better than Irish people."

Irish Independent

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