Brexit is a priority issue for this Government, and the Taoiseach, my cabinet colleagues and I have taken every opportunity to engage with EU partners and the UK to advance Ireland’s priorities.
Throughout the negotiations, this Government stressed the necessity of protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and ensuring that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland under any circumstances. The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is an integral part of the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, and addresses the fundamental rights and citizenship provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Commission Task Force conducted the negotiations with the UK on the Withdrawal Agreement. Throughout this process, I engaged actively with each of my British Government counterparts to underline the Government’s concerns about the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland and the imperative of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the achievements of the Peace Process, and I continue to do so. Over the course of the last several months, I have met with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab during his time as UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley and David Lidington, the UK Minister of the Cabinet Office, with whom I remain in regular contact.
I also speak regularly with the leaders of each of the political parties in Northern Ireland on the European Union’s endeavours to ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement throughout the Article 50 negotiations and ratification process. I held discussions most recently on this with each of the party leaders, including Arlene Foster, in Belfast on 10 January where I reiterated its vital importance.
Throughout the negotiations between the UK and the EU Task Force, I and my officials were in frequent communication with Michel Barnier and his team, as well as with the other EU27 Member States. In my contacts with EU partners, Member States and institutions, they showed, and continue to show unwavering solidarity on the backstop, for which I am extremely grateful.
A no deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome and would not be in the interests of the UK, Ireland or the EU. That is why the Government’s focus remains on securing the deal that has been reached. The Government remains firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the British Government.
The Withdrawal Agreement protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and the gains of the Peace Process. Importantly, nothing in the Agreement will prejudice the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It also protects the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity and confirms that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens. It provides for a period of transition, which can be extended, in which preparations can be made for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. The European Council has made clear that it stands by the Withdrawal Agreement and that it is not for renegotiation.
Under any scenario for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the obligations and commitments of the Irish and British Governments under the Good Friday Agreement remain and the Government will continue to work with the British Government as co-guarantor to secure the full implementation of the Agreement and the effective operation of all of its institutions.