Brexit is a priority issue for this Government, and the Taoiseach, my cabinet colleagues and I take every opportunity to engage with EU partners and the UK to advance Ireland’s priorities.
For Ireland, and our EU partners, the backstop forms an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement. It has always been our hope that the future relationship agreement between the EU and UK would resolve the border issue. However, should this not prove possible, a hard border would be avoided through the backstop mechanism set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. This insurance policy is vital for protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process.
The EU has made clear its commitment to looking at alternative arrangements as part of the negotiations on the future relationship. These discussions can only begin once the Withdrawal Agreement enters into effect . This is clearly set out in the Political Declaration setting out the Framework for the Future Relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as in the Instrument relating to the Agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration agreed between President Juncker and Prime Minister May in Strasbourg on 11 March.
In this context, the Government welcomes the UK Government's announcement that it is to establish working groups to examine alternative arrangements in order to prepare for that future negotiation. It is good that the UK is seeking to hear from a broad range of opinion, including from key stakeholders in Northern Ireland who have lived experiences of the invisible border on the island of Ireland.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that both the EU and the UK Government agree that no one has yet come up with arrangements which could replace those set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, which avoid a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls, protecting the all-island economy, North-South cooperation and the Good Friday Agreement.
Any future agreement must ensure the same outcome as the backstop. In accordance with the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the EU and the UK must agree jointly if arrangements, whether technological or not, under any future agreement deliver this outcome so that the backstop can be avoided or is no longer required in whole or in part. As co-guarantors, the Irish and British Governments will continue to have our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland and any proposal must reflect this.