The UK’s decision to leave the European Union is one of enormous strategic, economic and political consequence. We respect this decision, and we have been consistent in all interactions with the UK Government making clear that our preferred outcome is a deal on the basis of the withdrawal agreement. We are of course open to realistic, legally binding and workable alternatives but in the absence of such alternatives, the British Prime Minister's proposal to abolish the backstop is unacceptable.
Notwithstanding our differing perspectives, and continued uncertainty in relation to the manner of the UK's departure, I and my Government colleagues are maintaining regular contact with our UK counterparts. The Taoiseach met the British Prime Minister last week, and over the last month, I have met the Foreign Secretary, the Brexit Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, including last night when I hosted the Secretary of State for dinner in Dublin.
It is clear the UK’s decision to leave the EU will change fundamentally the nature and frequency of our bilateral interaction. I am conscious of the importance of protecting existing co-operation and of providing opportunities for mutually beneficial co-operation and relationship-building in the future, for obvious reasons.
The existing, carefully balanced Good Friday Agreement structures for British-Irish co-operation are vital in this regard, namely, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC, and the British-Irish Council, BIC. These institutions now need to be utilised to the fullest extent possible.
At last November's meeting of the intergovernmental conference, a joint paper outlining a possible model to maintain bilateral co-operation post Brexit was discussed, including regular Taoiseach-Prime Minister-level summits, and ministerial and official-level dialogue. The importance of such future structures was also discussed at the latest BIIGC meeting in May, and will be revisited by the current UK Government in the coming period and advanced as required in the context of broader developments.
Our embassy in London - our largest bilateral embassy - and our consulates in Edinburgh and Cardiff remain essential to sustaining ongoing dialogue, and the Government is committed to opening an additional consulate in Britain in the coming years.
The relationship between Ireland and the UK is and will continue to be a unique, vital, and complex one. It is a relationship which requires great care, close attention and ongoing engagement at every level.