Leo Varadkar: ‘Thank you to the people of Europe’

EU members understood Brexit fears and took our hopes into their own hearts

The European ideal is inspired by a spirit of optimism and belief in a better future. Europe allowed us to take our place among the nations of the world.

As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, I am struck by the fact that over the past few years we have seen again the power of an abiding friendship in action. A friendship that brought peace, reconciliation and prosperity to Europe has protected the peace in Ireland as we went through this first difficult phase of Brexit. Today we say thank you to our fellow Europeans.

Over the past 2½ years, I have travelled across Europe, meeting fellow heads of state and government to discuss Brexit and the challenges it brought to the island of Ireland. I will never forget the reaction of the people I met: those who inquired about the progress of Brexit and wondered what it would mean for my country;  those who worried about peace on the island of Ireland; the kindness of those who shared our concern and wished us well. I was humbled by their generosity of spirit, and the evidence in every European city of how international interests had replaced a narrow national one.

When Europe acts as one, it is a truly powerful force for good in the world. United we stand but divided we fall

Today we thank the European leaders, in member states and the European institutions, who made Irish concerns their own and stood with us to achieve a deal that protects the hard-earned peace on the island of Ireland. We say thank you to the people of Europe, who understood our fears and took our hopes into their own hearts.

Force for good

As Taoiseach, I have seen the strength and the unity of the European Union, and how much we can achieve when member states, all 27, think together, work together and have common objectives. When Europe acts as one, it is a truly powerful force for good in the world. United we stand but divided we fall. The unity that we’ve seen in the last few years should guide us in the future, because it confirms how Europe can achieve its objectives when we’re united. I believe this is something we can and should take forward into future negotiations on other issues.

The next step is to negotiate future relationships, including a free trade agreement, between the EU – including Ireland – and the United Kingdom that protects jobs, businesses, rural and coastal communities, and our economies generally.

To reach an agreement, both sides showed flexibility and were prepared to compromise. We each took a leap of faith and trusted in the other to help us achieve our aims

For young people today, the horrors of world war and the evils of fascism and communism are not in their memory. For them, Europe needs a new project, a new raison d'être. I believe dealing with challenges that can only be overcome through collective, multilateral action must be that raison d'être, with climate action first among them. Others include security, migration and the regulation of large corporations, many of which are now larger than states.

As the leader of a small country, I’ve felt enormous solidarity from our European partners. Sometimes people in small countries believe they can be swallowed up if they join big organisations like the EU. The past few years have demonstrated again that the EU is a union of nations, as well as of peoples. One in which small states are protected and respected.

Abiding friendship

I profoundly regret that the UK is leaving the EU today but I absolutely respect their decision to do so. Whatever happens, I hope there will always be a place at the table for them if they ever choose to come back. And I’m certain, no matter what, that we – both Ireland and the EU more broadly – will continue to have an abiding friendship with the UK, a real partnership in terms of politics, security and economics into the future.

Our objectives as Ireland and as Europe have been met. Citizens’ rights are protected for those EU citizens living in the UK, and for UK citizens living in the European Union. We have a financial settlement. There will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. The all-island economy will continue to develop and North-South co-operation as envisaged by the Belfast Agreement can continue to thrive. We’ve secured the integrity of the European Single Market and our place in it.

To reach an agreement, both sides showed flexibility and both sides were prepared to compromise. We each took a leap of faith and trusted in the other to help us achieve our aims. I believe it is a good sign for the next phase of negotiations, our future relationship and of things to come.

Leo Varadkar is Taoiseach