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Thursday 22 August 2019

'Our nearest neighbour continues to throw a tantrum' - President Higgins talks Brexit during state trip to Germany

'The issue of the border is not an exclusive problem of your country, it is a European problem,' says Germany's president

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) and his wife Elke Buedenbender (L) pose with President Michael D Higgins (2nd R) and his wife Sabina Higgins in front of the presidential Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) and his wife Elke Buedenbender (L) pose with President Michael D Higgins (2nd R) and his wife Sabina Higgins in front of the presidential Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
Berlin's Mayor Michael Mueller (L) poses with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins during a visit of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo by Gregor Fischer / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUTGREGOR FISCHER/AFP/Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with President Michael D Higgins as he arrives for his visit at the Chancellery in Berlin. Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and President Michael D Higgins inspect a military honor guard at the presidential Bellevue Palace in Berli. Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

“Don’t worry” was the German President’s message of reassurance to Ireland amid the continuing Brexit uncertainty, on the first day of Michael D Higgins’ State visit.

Later, a Bord Bia-hosted lunch at a Michelin-star restaurant heard the President refer to the Brexit uncertainty “as our nearest neighbour continues to throw a tantrum”.

The German President, Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that Ireland should not be concerned as far as Germany’s position is concerned.

“The issue of the border is not an exclusive problem of your country, it is a European problem,” he said.

He was speaking at the ceremonial welcome ceremony at Schloss Bellevue in Berlin, where President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were greeted with military honours.

Sabina wore a magenta pink dress with a draped detail. It was mirrored by her Germany counterpart, Elke Büdenbender, who also wore a dress of the same shade.

READ MORE: Europe's election of first female president of the Commission is a political victory for Ireland

On their arrival at the palace, pleasantries were exchanged, with the German president commenting on a “lovely summer morning in Berlin”.

He then asked if Ireland was also getting good weather and President Higgins replied: “Yes.”

Mrs Higgins then told Ms Büdenbender that the last few days had been cold.

The President signed the distinguished visitors’ book before they were escorted to the terrace for the official welcome with military honours.

President Steinmeier said he hopes here is no increase in those who “fantasise about a no-deal Brexit” and that those with secret sympathy for this option don’t overlook the consequences.

Amhrán na bhfiann was played before the German national anthem.

Gifts were exchanged, with President Higgins and Sabina presenting President Steinmeier with a set of cuff-links while his wife received a brooch designed by Séamus Gill, a silversmith from Kilkenny, who has exhibited internationally, including in Munich.

The other gift was a word carving by wood turner and furniture maker Mark Hanvey from Co Down.

They then held a short private meeting before a press conference in which the German President reiterated his country’s solidarity with Ireland.

Asked about the event of a no-deal Brexit, with claims that negotiations could be reopened Mr Higgins said that we have seen these claims of conversations before in Britain and that as President he has to “restrain” himself on asking “whether they did or didn’t take place”.

And he said he believed the wider interests of the European Union - of decent work, of openness, the rule of law, trading respect and human rights issues - would take priority over a “narrow set of trade interests”.

President Steinmeier said he hopes here is no increase in those who “fantasise about a no-deal Brexit” and that those with secret sympathy for this option don’t overlook the consequences.

Meanwhile, he warned that it had been difficult to organise the original deal among the EU 27 member states.

“I don’t see conditions under which this agreement could be unravelled,” he said, adding that he hoped they would be able to engage in “realistic discussions” with the new leadership in the UK.

Afterwards, President Higgins and Mrs Higgins visited the Brandenburg Gate where they shook hands with well wishers who stood at the barriers.

They were greeted by the Mayor of Berlin, Michael Muller, and posed for photographs.

A visit to the Rotes Rathaus, Berlin’s City Hall followed and the couple signed the Golden Book of Berlin.

It was then off to the Neue Wache memorial for victims of war and tyranny, where a military trumpet sounded a lament amid the stark surrounds.

Latest trade figures were announced at a lunch hosted by An Bord Bia with Donal Denvir, head of the Bord, announcing that total Irish food exports to Germany increased from €570m in 2014 to €730m in 2018.

Beef rose by 21pc, accounting for €140m in the same period.

Dairy accounted for 42pc, valued at €310m.

President Higgins said uncertainty around Brexit would bring challenges to the Irish Food and Drink industry “as our nearest neighbour continues to throw a tantrum”.

“Germany and other continental European markets offer significant and valuable potential and opportunity for Ireland and its food producers,” he said.

After lunch, the President had a brief meeting with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, before departing for the Bundestag to meet with Wolfgang Schauble, President of the Bundestag.

Later, he will attend an Enterprise Ireland event.

A state dinner will be held in his honour at Schloss Belvue this evening.

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