Wednesday 26 June 2019

Brexit countdown: we are ready for risks and challenges Ireland faces

The State has been preparing for Brexit for a long time, says Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and this is how we will defend our economy

Of national concern: A mock customs post at Ravensdale, Co Louth, set up to protest against a hard border Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Of national concern: A mock customs post at Ravensdale, Co Louth, set up to protest against a hard border Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

This Saturday, April 29, the European Council will meet in the format of 27 member states to adopt guidelines for the Brexit negotiations which will set out the overall EU approach to the negotiation process. In the following weeks, more detailed negotiation directives will be agreed. These guidelines and directives will map out the approach to be taken by Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, in the negotiations with the UK.

A two-year timeline for negotiation began with Prime Minister Theresa May's formal letter of March 29. Her decision to call an election on June 8 doesn't impact on this deadline.

Ireland has been preparing for Brexit for a long time. Well before the UK referendum last June, contingency planning was under way across Government. That work provided a solid basis for the detailed further work that we had to undertake once the referendum result was clear.

Since then, we have conducted more detailed examination and analysis of the risks and challenges of Brexit, extensive consultation with stakeholders likely to be impacted, and deep engagement at political, diplomatic and official level with Northern Ireland, Britain, each of the other 26 member states and the EU institutions.

While Brexit has implications across the policy spectrum, we identified four key priorities - minimising the impact on economy, jobs and trade; protecting the Northern Ireland peace process; maintaining the Common Travel Area; and influencing the future direction of the European Union.

On the last of these, we have contributed substantially to the debate, and are happy that the overall approach mapped out by the EU in its recent Rome Declaration, marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, reflects our core concerns, aims and values.

We want to see an EU that focuses on delivering for its citizens, including through completion of the single market. But we also need an EU that can tackle pressing global issues such as migration, where in order to address the root causes, the global community must encourage and support African nations to develop opportunities and build capacity for their young people, to stem the flow of outward migration.

We also want an outward-facing EU in the area of international trade, concluding trade agreements with other countries and regions and helping to set the global standards for future trade. I remain convinced that it is in the EU's interests to work with the new administration in the US to explain the benefits of close cooperation between America and Europe when it comes to mutual trade, prosperity and job creation.

In the coming Brexit negotiations, the initial focus will be on specific issues arising from the UK "exit", including financial liabilities of the UK, reciprocal rights of citizens, and border issues. Once sufficient progress is made on these issues, negotiations are expected to broaden out to cover the future relationship between the UK and the EU, which is where the main concerns around economy and trade impact arise.

On our specific issues, we have been successful in ensuring that they are recognised and supported by our partners. In recent weeks, we have seen Prime Minister May's formal withdrawal letter, the European Parliament's detailed resolution on Brexit, and the draft EU guidelines. In each of these key documents, the Irish concerns are addressed.

We said that we need to ensure that the Northern Ireland peace process is protected and that all of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement respected after Brexit. That is now fully reflected in the draft guidelines, which aim to build on the support that the EU has consistently shown for the peace process.

We said, in particular, that we must avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Prime Minister May's letter made clear that she shares this objective, while the draft EU guidelines recognise that flexible and imaginative solutions are needed here.

We said that we want to maintain the common travel area that has existed between Ireland and Britain for decades. That is also reflected in Theresa May's letter, and the draft EU guidelines expressly state that the union should recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the UK and Ireland.

These are significant achievements. That is not to underestimate the difficult and complex negotiations that lie ahead, but it is a very solid starting point.

As negotiations advance, the emphasis will move to issues around trade and the impact on economy and jobs. These are not unique to Ireland - indeed that is another reason why I and the Government have been engaging so extensively with our EU partners. For example, my meeting with the Dutch and Danish prime ministers in The Hague last Friday was dominated by our common concerns around trade, as three of the EU countries with the deepest trading relations with the UK.

In areas such as agrifood, tourism, and fishing, we face particular challenges, but we are not alone. Working with like-minded member states will continue to be an important part of our Brexit strategy when it comes to defending key sectors of our economy.

We want to see a close trading relationship between the UK and the EU, including Ireland. We want to avoid unnecessary burdens on trade, business and employment and we want to ensure that we can still sell our goods and services into the UK on a competitive basis. But we also recognise the need for a level playing field between Britain and the EU.

Working together as a united team of 27, and through continued close engagement with the EU negotiation task force led by Michel Barnier, we will continue to protect and advance the interests of Irish citizens, consumers and businesses. The journey ahead will be challenging. Based on the success of our campaign to date, I am very confident that we will continue to have the support of our EU partners.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD

Sunday Independent

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