Theresa May: ‘I know what is at stake for Ireland in Brexit’
UK is committed to retaining a special bond with the Republic, even as we leave the EU
I am in Dublin this week with a very clear message: that the UK government is committed to preserving and enhancing the unique relationship between our countries and our peoples.
Geography, history and the close family ties and bonds of affection that unite the UK and Ireland mean that there will always be a special and unique relationship between us.
Indeed, there are about 700,000 Irish nationals living in the UK and an estimated 250,000 UK nationals living in Ireland. Irish citizens have a unique status in UK law unlike other EU nationals.
The powerful imagery of the Queen’s state visit to Ireland in 2011, and President Michael D Higgins’s state visit to Britain in 2014, showed just how far that relationship has come in recent years. I intend to preserve the historic progress that has been made.
But I know that, since the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, there are concerns – particularly about the nature of our future relationship, the ability to travel between the UK and Ireland, and also the trade we do with one another. I want to reassure readers of The Irish Times on all three issues.
First of all, the vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values we share with our European friends, least of all Ireland.
Success for all
We want the EU itself to be a success and we want its remaining member states, including Ireland, to prosper.
We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely.
Instead, the UK’s vote to leave the EU was a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.
Ireland, as our close neighbour and friend, will be crucial to that endeavour.
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We will continue to co-operate with European partners in everything from cross-border crime to terrorism and foreign affairs – something particularly important in Ireland, where the UK has its only land border.
Second, I want to reassure people about the travel arrangements between our two countries – particularly when it comes to the Border.
I am wholeheartedly aware of what is at stake in Ireland and Northern Ireland as the UK leaves the EU.
I saw first-hand as home secretary the benefits of the Common Travel Area.
The UK and Ireland have a shared interest in making sure that the Common Travel Area can continue; this arrangement has been in place long before our two countries joined the EU and we are determined to preserve it.
Thousands of people cross between Northern Ireland and Ireland every day to work, study and do business. I want this to continue.
Successive governments in Westminster and Dublin have worked hard with the Northern Ireland parties to achieve peace and political stability.
There is a very strong commitment from the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government to find a practical solution that recognises the unique economic, social and political context of the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
We are doing everything we can to ensure Northern Ireland’s voice is heard in the negotiations to leave the EU, and that, after the upcoming election, strong and stable devolved government resumes that works for everyone
Third, I want to reassure people that our trade ties will remain strong and even be strengthened. This matters hugely to both our countries and supports 400,000 jobs across our islands.
The UK will, as a priority, pursue a strategic partnership and a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU, allowing for the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and the EU’s member states.
I also made clear, however, that for us this approach cannot mean membership of the single market. European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the “four freedoms” and we respect that fact.
Instead of membership of the single market, we will seek the greatest possible access to the single market through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement. That agreement may take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas – for example, the freedom to provide financial services across national borders, which directly connects Dublin and the City of London.
My approach is very much about giving certainty to the people of the UK, Ireland and Europe. That is why I set out 12 negotiating objectives a fortnight ago.
It is why I’ve been clear we’ll trigger article 50 by the end of March. It is why we have presented a straightforward Bill to parliament in setting out the time line.
Because I am determined that we will make a success of Brexit not just for Britain, but for our neighbours too. And we will very much remain trusted partners, close friends and good neighbours to Ireland and the Irish people.
Theresa May is prime minister of the United Kingdom