Taoiseach says ‘landing zone’ exists for trade deal between EU and UK

Micheál Martin warns of challenging times ahead as he meets Boris Johnson

Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson in their first meeting as Taoiseach and British prime minister in Hillsborough, Co Down, on Thursday concentrated developing the “warm relationship” between Britain and Ireland. Video: Reuters


Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said a “landing zone” exists for the EU and UK to strike a trade deal before the end of the year.

Speaking after his first meeting as Taoiseach with British prime minister Boris Johnson at Hillsborough, Co Down on Thursday, Mr Martin said both sides knew that they needed to avoid another economic shock following Covid-19.

“I think where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.

“It seems to me that there is a landing zone if that will is there on both sides and I think it is, on the European Union side and on the British side to find that landing zone.

“My own gut instinct is we both understand that we don’t need another shock to the economic system that a no-deal Brexit would give or a sub-optimal trade agreement would give to our respective economies across Europe, Ireland and of course within Great Britain itself alongside the enormous shock that Covid has already given.”

Mr Martin said he hoped for a “productive outcome” when Brexit negotiations resumed later this month.

The Taoiseach also said it was important that the centenary events to mark the partition of Ireland were respectful and enlightening.

“History for me is about enlightening the generations to come and current generations,” he said.

“It’s not about trying to prove a point — there will be different perspectives in relation to obviously the centenary commemoration of 1920 and 1921 in respect of the island of Ireland, both in the Republic we will be doing our centenaries and likewise in the north.”

He said he had told Mr Johnson that the model used to commemorate the various 1916 centenaries had proved successful.

“He accepts readily that different traditions will have a different perspective on these big events,” he added.

“The key point is that you tell history, you teach it, you present it in as broad a way as possible, warts and all, and you invite people to make their observations, to take their own insights from an objectively presented narrative.

“That’s the key. No one party owns our history. No one political party does. No one tradition does. The challenge for us really is can we organise centenary commemorations in a way that is as inclusive as possible, as respectful as possible of the different traditions, but done in a way that brings new insights into what actually transpired 100 years ago?”

‘Warm engagement’

Earlier, after he was greeted by Mr Johnson at the door of Hillsborough Castle, Mr Martin said he and the prime minister would work “very warmly together”.

“We look forward to a very warm engagement,” he said. “It is important for us both in terms of the British-Irish relationship, which has been the cornerstone of much progress on the island of Ireland, and between our two countries for well over two to three decades, and we want to maintain that.”

Mr Martin said there were “challenging times ahead” with Covid, Brexit, and other issues. He referred to how this engagement was due to take place last week but had to be postponed due to the death of John Hume.

The Taoiseach said it was particularly fitting that Mr Hume was remembered at times like this “because he did so much to facilitate these kind of meetings and make them much more regular in the normal course of events”.

Mr Johnson endorsed Mr Martin’s comments about Mr Hume. He said he had the honour of meeting Mr Martin a number of years ago and looked forward to developing the relationship.

“It’s great to see you Taoiseach, it’s great to be here in Northern Ireland and we look forward to developing our relationship in all sorts of ways, east-west, north-south , you name it,” said Mr Johnson.

The Taoiseach and prime minister then went on a tour of the Hillsborough Castle Castle before having a working lunch. –Additional reporting PA