I and my Government colleagues have always been clear that we will seek to maintain the closest possible bilateral relationship with the UK post-Brexit. On a political level, we already cooperate closely through a number of institutions, most notably the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council, both of which are institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference was established to deal with “the totality of relationships” between these islands and to promote bilateral cooperation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of the two sovereign Governments. It provides an important opportunity to consider the East West relationship and a forum to discuss important issues, as the agenda of the last meeting reflected, including political developments in Northern Ireland, East-West economic cooperation, security cooperation, issues relating to the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and issues of rights and citizenship. There have been three meetings of the Conference over the past year, in London last July, in Dublin in November and again in London on 8 May last.
For its part, the British-Irish Council brings together the Irish and UK Governments, the Devolved Administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, as well as representatives of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The Council continues to work on areas of shared importance, with the Taoiseach and Minister Bruton attending the most recent Summit meeting in Manchester two weeks ago.
There are also strong inter-parliamentary relations maintained and developed through the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA), which brings together elected representatives from the Oireachtas, the UK Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish and Welsh devolved Assemblies, as well as the representative assemblies for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Three of the four BIPA Committees have carried out inquiries into the consequences of the UK exit from the EU for various sectors across this island, meeting with practitioners and stakeholders to hear evidence and further the discourse around this issue of primary importance.
However, notwithstanding the important work of these Institutions, there is a real danger that, post-Brexit, our two countries could lose the habit of cooperation that we have developed working side by side in EU institutions since 1973. Therefore, we will need to work hard to protect and develop our relationship as close neighbours and good friends.
That is why, at last November's British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, we discussed a joint paper outlining a possible model to maintain and strengthen the high level of bilateral co-operation between Ireland and the UK post-Brexit.
As announced following the Conference, this model would include top level summits involving the Taoiseach and Prime Minister and senior Irish and UK Ministers. These summits would be supported by close bilateral work at both political and official levels.
This commitment was reaffirmed at the most recent BIIGC, held in May this year, and officials on both sides have commenced the process of turning these ideas into a detailed practical plan of work with a view to presenting a fully worked through proposal for future East-West cooperation.
The Embassy of Ireland in London remains our largest bilateral Embassy globally, and has had additional staff assigned to it since the Brexit vote to reflect the fact that our relationship with the UK is such a high priority. Our Consulate in Edinburgh continues to be very active, and our Consulate in Cardiff has reopened in recent months. Our Global Ireland policy contains a pledge to open an additional consulate in another British location post-2019. ‘Team Ireland’ also enjoys a significant footprint in Britain with our trade, tourism, and investment agencies continuing to make a positive impact.
I am therefore confident that these existing structures and proposed new arrangements will provide ample opportunity for positive engagement between our two Governments into the future.