Monday 23 October 2017

'There will be no return to the hard border' - Theresa May's letter to trigger Article 50 states she does not want Brexit to 'harm' Ireland

British PM Theresa May with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
British PM Theresa May with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

Theresa May’s letter to trigger Article 50 states that she does not want Brexit to “harm” the Republic of Ireland.

The British Prime Minister has included a note on what she sees as the UK’s “special relationship” with Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

A detail shows EU Council President Donald Tusk who holds British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit letter which was delivered by Britain's permanent representative to the European Union Tim Barrow (not pictured) that gives notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty in Brussels, Belgium, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A detail shows EU Council President Donald Tusk who holds British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit letter which was delivered by Britain's permanent representative to the European Union Tim Barrow (not pictured) that gives notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty in Brussels, Belgium, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

“The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state with a land border with the United Kingdom.

“We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland,” she wrote.

“We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.”

However, the Irish Government has today issued a statement responding to the formal initiation of Brexit, saying: “It has been clear from the start that the UK's departure from the Union will have significant economic, political and social implications for Ireland.”

The Government says it regrets the UK decision but highlight the fact that while Article 50 has been triggered, the UK remains a member of the EU until negotiations are completed.

“In the meantime, nothing will change, including the UK’s obligations towards the citizens and businesses of other Member States,” the statement says.

“While the Article 50 exit negotiations should also involve discussion of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, the many important issues involved are unlikely to be resolved for a considerable time.”

The Government said it has been “working very hard for more than two years” to engage with all sectors across the island of Ireland, to fully analyse our main areas of concern, and to develop our negotiating priorities.

 The Irish priorities are to minimise the impact on our trade and the economy; to protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process, including through maintaining an open border; to continue the Common Travel Area with the UK; and to work for a positive future for the European Union.

“We note that our particular concerns, including in relation to the Good Friday Agreement, have been acknowledged by Prime Minister May in her letter.”

A consolidated paper providing more detail of the Irish priorities and approach to the negotiations will be published before a meeting of the European Council on April 29.

“We have been extremely active at both political and official level in engaging with every one of our EU partners and with the EU institutions, raising awareness of the unique circumstances in relation to Ireland, and the need to address these in the negotiations.

“It has also been invaluable to gain a first-hand sense of the objectives of others. We are confident that this intensive engagement has had a very positive impact,” the statement said.

It added that the upcoming negotiations will be “very challenging”.

“Ireland is well prepared for the challenges ahead. We will negotiate from a position of strength as an integral part of the EU 27 team, and will work with all our partners to achieve the best possible outcome.”

Speaking after contents of the letter were published, Director General of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, John McGrane said:

“The delivery of Prime Minister May’s letter today triggering Article 50 finally puts in motion the reality of the UK withdrawing from the EU. While this is not a move that the Chamber particularly welcomes, it is now imperative that all sides work together in the coming months and years to ensure that a deal is struck that does least harm to the economies of both the UK and Ireland.

“It has been clear since the Prime Minister’s statement in January that the UK Government’s concerns regarding immigration could potentially put at risk the open free trade arrangement that UK currently enjoys with the EU. This is alarming for businesses operating in both the UK and Ireland, many of whom rely on this open bilateral trade between our two countries for the over 400,000 jobs they sustain.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement of Ireland in her letter and the importance of maintaining the Common Travel Area between our two islands. This is something that the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has been advocating strongly for and we are hopeful that the EU will respect the integrity of this unique and bilateral arrangement.

“The British Irish Chamber of Commerce stands for the trade between these two islands we will continue to champion this trade through the uncertain and unpredictable times ahead. We want to see both sides negotiate a comprehensive trade deal that will include critical sectors such as agri-food. It must be made known to those around the table that a bad deal for the UK will be a bad deal for Ireland and should be avoided at all costs.

“We also want to see early agreement on a transition framework. This will be essential if we are to avoid deep and dangerous uncertainty that is currently paralysing business decisions across both islands.

“The British Irish Chamber of Commerce now stands ready to support our negotiators by providing practical solutions to the problems we are now faced with. Such action and support will not only help ensure that Ireland is not adversely affected by a decision that is not of its own making, but will also have broader benefits for the island of Ireland as whole and will help protect the €1.3 billion of weekly bilateral trade that we currently enjoy.”

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