This has been an important day for the European Union and for Ireland.Today, we agreed the guidelines for our negotiations with the UK.The Government has been clear from the outset – our approach to the negotiations is as a committed member of the EU 27.
I am very pleased with the outcome of the meeting, including the overall approach to the negotiations as set out in the guidelines.
I am glad that they recognise that we should move on to talk about the framework of the future relationship between the EU and the UK as soon as sufficient progress has been made on the withdrawal issues.
They also recognise the importance of a smooth transition – this is very important.
And they emphasise the importance of getting clarity in relation to citizens’ rights, a key issue across all Member States.The guidelines also make clear the need to make progress on the financial liabilities arising from the UK withdrawal.
On the issues of specific concern to Ireland, the outcome is a huge endorsement of the Government’s approach and a clear recognition of the unique and specific challenges we face.It bears testament to the government’s huge campaign of strategic engagement with EU Member States and the EU institutions over the past 10 months. This has included over 400 meetings at political and official level in which we have highlighted the serious implications of Brexit for Ireland, explained our unique concerns, and discussed our approach to the negotiations.I would like to thank all involved, and especially thank our EU partners for their understanding and support.So I am satisfied that the guidelines fully reflect our unique concerns – to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process, to avoid a hard border, and to protect the Common Travel Area.
And the declaration about unity is hugely important in order to dispel any doubt or uncertainty. The only ‘new’ thing here is Brexit: it’s important to provide reassurance that it does not undermine anyprovision of the Good Friday Agreement; and that, if the provision on unity by peaceful and democratic means is invoked at some time in the future, EU membership is assured.
Let me be clear. This is not about triggering any mechanism. I have been consistent in my view that the conditions for a referendum for a referendum do not currently exist. But the acknowledgement of the principle is hugely important.So overall, the outcome of today’s meeting is very positive.Of course, this is only the beginning.
A lot of work remains to be done. Discussions will now begin on the more detailed directives for the negotiations which will be adopted later next month.And looking ahead, the focus will move quickly to economic and trade issues – and here too, there are some unique and specific challenges for Ireland.We will continue to engage in the same manner to ensure that Ireland’s concerns and priorities are reflected in the EU’s negotiating position as it evolves, and that we work towards a strong and constructive future relationship with the UK.And we will also focus on domestic policy to reinforce the competitiveness of the Irish economy, to protect it from the full impacts of Brexit, and to pursue all possible opportunities that might arise.
So today was an important milestone. It marks the beginning, rather than the end, of what will be a long and complex process.I can assure you that we are well prepared and that we will continue to work to protect and promote Ireland’s interests.