Brexit is a priority issue for this Government, and the Taoiseach, my cabinet colleagues and I have taken every opportunity to engage with all relevant stakeholders to advance Ireland’s priorities.
I, as well as officials from my Department, remain in ongoing contact with representatives from EU Member States, the Commission and Task Force, and the UK.
It is important to recall that there are in effect two separate, though linked, negotiations: one to agree a full legal Withdrawal Agreement, and the other to reach a political understanding on the framework for future relations. It is the former which is the immediate priority. Negotiations on the future relationship, including issues such as regulatory alignment, will be addressed in the framework for the future relationship to be agreed alongside the Withdrawal Agreement. The negotiations on the detailed legal agreement will only begin once the UK has left the EU on 29 March 2019.
As regards the movement of animals and agricultural products between North and South, the draft backstop proposals in the draft Withdrawal Agreement provide for complete regulatory alignment, and hence no changes to current arrangements.
The EU position with regard to the future relationship is set out in the European Council Guidelines of March 2018, while the UK’s position is set out in its White Paper of July. Both sides have identified cooperation in the area of agriculture and trade in agri-food products as important aspects of the future trading relationship. Ireland wants the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, including in the area of trade, and in particular as regards agriculture and trade in agri-foods. This will be a priority for us in future relationship negotiations.