We are never going back to dark and divisive days of decades past
The final phase of Brexit talks is under way. In just over six months, the UK will leave the EU. We are preparing for different scenarios depending on whether the UK departs with a transition phase until January 2021 or without a transition phase in March next year. In all this planning, the most enduring and important contingency arrangement Ireland enjoys is the fact we will remain a dedicated and valued member of the EU after Brexit.
I know Irish people take great reassurance from the stability, predictability and continuity of our EU membership and the advantages it brings. However, it is important we are also honest with the fact that key details remain to be worked out about how the UK departs the union we both joined together in 1973.
It is understandable if people are concerned by some of the coverage of Brexit and the fact that some groups are trying to resuscitate ideas for Northern Ireland and our shared Border which have been proven not to work. That is a distraction from the task at hand and not one we have time to dwell on. The simple truth is we have a little over four weeks until the critical European Council meeting in October which remains the target for finalising a withdrawal agreement.
I am confident, however, that EU and UK negotiators are focused on the critical task at hand, which is agreeing a legally enforceable backstop for Northern Ireland that delivers on the UK commitments of last December and March and the guarantee of no physical infrastructure or related checks or controls.
This is not a backstop any of us wish to ever use. Our shared hope is for a future relationship so close that the backstop is never needed. However, agreeing it now, as all sides are committed to doing, provides reassurance to everyone who has benefited from the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement that we are never going back to the dark and divisive days of decades past.
The Irish Government has not altered course throughout these talks and the European Union has backed us all the way. It has been humbling for me, as a politician and as an Irish citizen, to hear solidarity from European leaders which is as forceful in private as it is in public. In the last three weeks, I have travelled to Berlin, Vienna, Helsinki, Tallinn and Vilnius and I will be in more capitals in the coming weeks. It is the Government's diplomacy on Brexit that has placed Irish issues front and centre in these talks and there is no way we are going to relent in that effort now.
Although Brexit will mean change, a good outcome to the EU-UK negotiations, and comprehensive planning for the challenges our businesses and people will face, can ensure change is understood and well-managed. This will be our focus over the critical weeks ahead.