Prime Minister Theresa May and the Irish Taoiseach gave press statements after their meeting at 10 Downing Street on UK–Ireland relations.
Let me start by offering my condolences to the French people following the sickening attack in Northern France this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.
I am delighted to welcome the Taoiseach here today.
It is testament to the importance of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland that Enda is amongst the first leaders that I have met since I took office. In recent years the relationship between both our countries has gone from strength to strength, building on the success of Her Majesty the Queen’s historic visit to Ireland in 2011.
Now, as we contemplate the nature of our bilateral co-operation once the United Kingdom has left the European Union, I want to underline my personal commitment to nurturing this relationship.
We must make a success of Brexit and together ensure that we maximise the opportunities for both our countries. That’s why our discussions today have focused on Brexit; the particular impact on the Republic of Ireland and what this means for our economic relationship, travel between our countries and the peace process.
And let me say a few words on each.
First, the economic relationship. Trade between the United Kingdom and Ireland is worth almost £1 billion each week, supporting 400,000 jobs across our islands.
These economic benefits matter to people across both countries. That’s why we have agreed today that we both want to maintain the closest possible economic relationship in the future.
Of course this means there will be a number of complex issues to address. We should take time now to study the options and to strive for practical solutions.
And I have reiterated to the Taoiseach my commitment to involving the Northern Ireland Executive fully in those preparations.
Common travel area
I recognise that one of the biggest concerns for people is the common travel area. As I said yesterday, we benefitted from a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years before either country was a member of the EU.
There is a strong will on both sides to preserve it and so we must now focus on securing a deal that is in the interest of both of us.
And alongside this, we should continue our efforts to strengthen the external borders of the common travel area, for example through a common approach to the use of passenger data.
Finally, we talked about the peace process. It is in all our interests to work together to safeguard our national security and the outcome of the referendum will not undermine it.
We are both fully committed to working together in support of the Northern Ireland Executive to build a better, stronger, safer future for the people of Northern Ireland. Indeed, it is vital that that we keep up the momentum on tackling paramilitary groups and building a shared future.
And today we have reaffirmed our commitment to establishing a new Independent Reporting Commission by the end of this year, which will support these efforts.
In conclusion, these have been constructive discussions.
We have agreed we will continue to hold annual bilateral summits to strengthen our co-operation.
And it is precisely because the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland is so deep and so important that there are many issues to resolve as the UK leaves the European Union. But I firmly believe that we can make a success of Brexit and take our relationship forwards not backwards.
And I look forward to working closely together in the weeks and months ahead to make the most of the opportunities ahead.
First of all, may I concur with the words of the Prime Minister in saying that our hearts are once again with the French people. For centuries a church has always been a place of sanctuary, and it’s particularly brutal that terror and murder have been visited upon innocent people at a time when they’ve been so physically vulnerable and so spiritually hopeful. I concur with your words, Prime Minister.
And may I say that I extend my congratulations to Prime Minister Theresa on her recent appointment. It is of course a great personal achievement for her and comes at a time of great challenge for all the people of Europe and indeed for the people of the world. Can I say that we had a very good meeting today. And I am delighted that we have agreed to work together on continuing to build on the strength and the closeness of the UK–Ireland relationship. And I look forward very much indeed to working with the Prime Minister on the many issues where we share a mutual interest.
Now we had a good discussion today on the progress that the 2 governments have made in recent years following on from the Joint Statement of 2012 on British–Irish Relations: the Next Decade. I’m delighted that the Prime Minister has affirmed again the UK government’s commitment to this comprehensive programme of engagement between the 2 governments and officials. This will allow us to continue to work together on a range of issues that are of benefit to the British people and the Irish people, like jobs and trade and tourism and energy and so on, as part of our joint Irish–UK work programme.
Today’s meeting also gave us the opportunity to discuss developments in Northern Ireland to which the Prime Minister has referred. And we did repeat and reiterate the importance of the partnership between our 2 governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, and in supporting the peace process, and in contributing to stability and continued progress in Northern Ireland. We are both very much committed to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the successive agreements of St Andrews and Fresh Start, and we will continue to work for a prosperous and peaceful Northern Ireland in the time ahead.
We also discussed the many issues that arise in the context of the outcome of the EU referendum on EU membership. It’s not an outcome that we wanted in Ireland, but we respect the decision of the UK electorate, and we now must work out the consequences of that. So we intend to work with the Prime Minister, and all our partners in the EU and in the Northern Ireland Executive, to make sure that we can achieve the best outcome in the forthcoming negotiations.
So we have agreed, as the Prime Minister has reiterated, that we would work together to ensure that the benefits of the peace process are preserved in any new arrangements which might emerge regarding the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union. In particular, we both recognised that Ireland is the only EU member state that shares a land border with the United Kingdom. We are in full agreement that we do not wish to see any return to the borders of the past on the island of Ireland.
So today’s meeting also gave us the opportunity to have a broader discussion on the common issues of concern in the context of the referendum result, such as our close trading relationship and the benefits of the common travel area already referred to by the Prime Minister.
For our part, we’ve already made very clear our view that Ireland is very much committed to staying a member of the European Union, and we want the upcoming negotiations and the process of those to end with a prosperous and outward looking United Kingdom which retains a close relationship with the European Union. That is very much in all our interests.
Neither I nor Prime Minister May are in any doubt about the range and the many complexities of the negotiations that lie ahead of us all, nor do we underestimate the importance of the issues involved for all our citizens in the UK, Northern Ireland, Ireland and the European Union. But we face the future together, in the knowledge that relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom have never been better, and that the spirit of partnership and friendship will guide all of our actions and our work together in the time ahead.
Thank you, Prime Minister Theresa, for the early opportunity to come and have this first of many meetings with you. I’ve commended the Prime Minister for her speech outside Downing Street, in terms of the opportunities that present themselves to deal with the many issues of inequality and social disadvantage that abound. I’ve also invited the Prime Minister, when the time is opportune and appropriate, when she’s settled into her job, to come over to Dublin and have an engagement, as all of her predecessors for many years have done. Thank you very much indeed.
Taoiseach, Prime Minister, how concerned are you by the wave of IS inspired violence that we’ve seen across Europe in recent days? How concerning is it?
And secondly, Taoiseach, the prospect, with a Brexit, of a potentially united Ireland seems more likely. Is that a prospect you agree with, and one that you’d welcome?
First of all, on the terror threat that we face, we all face a terror threat. If you look at the national threat level here in the United Kingdom, it is at severe. That means that a terrorist attack is highly likely. I think what is necessary is for us all to work together: we stand shoulder to shoulder with France, we offer them every support we can in dealing with this issue and this threat that they and the rest of us are facing.
But of one thing I think we are all absolutely clear, and that is the terrorists will not prevail. They are trying to destroy our way of life, they are trying to destroy our values; we have shared values, and those values will win through, and the terrorists will not win.
We’ve been working with former Prime Minister Cameron and now with Prime Minister May in respect of security issues, information in respect of passengers, European Arrest Warrant and other communications data which might include information in respect of terrorist activities.
Obviously on Brexit, the decision has been made to leave. It’s a decision I didn’t like, but obviously I have full respect for the decision made by the UK electorate. So our job now is to work through this process in as practical and as imaginative and as creative a manner as is possible, to ensure, as I said, that the UK remains prosperous and outward looking; that Ireland retains its interests that I’ve already outlined in terms of trade, common travel, border, Good Friday Agreement; and that we bring to the table the close relationship in discussing these negotiations, both for the future relationship of the European Union with the UK, and what that actually means in the time ahead.
So there are many obstacles that lie upfront, but I do believe that the basis of our friendship and connections between the 2 countries are a great basis upon which to move forward.