Theresa May: I want Ireland and the UK to have a stronger relationship after Brexit

We have important responsibility to make sure nothing is done to jeopardise peace process

Anti-Brexit protesters bring their campaign to Stormont to raise their concerns about the possible return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following the UK leaving the European Union. Video: Reuters

 

Yesterday I formally wrote to Donald Tusk to give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom who voted decisively to leave the European Union.

At this moment of profound significance for the United Kingdom, I want to assure you that this decision was no rejection of the values we share with our European friends, least of all the Republic of Ireland.

Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies of Ireland and all our friends across the continent.

The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have a unique relationship founded on our distinctive geography, history and trade – and above all the deep family ties and bonds of affection that unite us.

I understand the special significance of this relationship and I am personally committed to strengthening it, not weakening it, as the UK leaves the EU.

That is why in my letter to Donald Tusk I have made clear that one of the key principles for the negotiation ahead is that we must pay close attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

I know that for the people of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the ability to move freely across the Border is an essential part of daily life.

So my letter makes clear that we want to avoid a return to a hard Border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland.

My letter also sets out the important responsibility that we have to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.

As Europe’s closest friend and neighbour, the UK hopes to enjoy a deep and special partnership with the whole of the European Union once we leave. This deep and special partnership should take in both economic and security co-operation, for this is in the interests of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the European Union and the wider world.

Special partnership

We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats – and we want the United Kingdom, through this new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals.

So we approach these talks constructively, respectfully, and in a spirit of sincere co-operation. We have listened carefully to what our European counterparts have said and we respect their position. That is why, for example, the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market.

European leaders have been clear that membership of the single market entails accepting the “four freedoms”. We understand that these are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”.

For that reason, we do not seek membership of the single market but the closest possible access to it through a new bold and ambitious free trade agreement.

Similarly, we understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU: we know we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We also know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part – just as UK companies do in other overseas markets. We accept that.

But there should be no reason why we cannot agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all.

Trade between our countries is worth over £43 billion a year and supports 400,000 jobs. There are also complex supply chains that benefit both our countries.

So it is in all our interests for the partnership between the UK and the EU to allow maximum freedom for British companies to trade with, and operate within, European markets, and the same for Irish companies in the UK. It would be to the detriment of us all if unnecessary barriers to trade were erected.

Security co-operation

I am also determined that we must continue to forge the closest possible security co-operation to keep our people safe. In an increasingly unstable world, that collaboration is more, not less, important for us all. We face the same global threats from terrorism and extremism and that message was only reinforced by the abhorrent terrorist attack in London last week, in which an Irish national was also injured.

I want the UK’s new relationship with the EU to ensure that – whether it comes to exchanging the information our security services need, or working together to protect Europe’s borders – we have the closest possible relationship.

This new partnership is of such importance to both the UK and the EU that we are sure it can be agreed within the timeframe for the negotiations and in a way that strengthens the liberal, democratic values of Europe that we all share – and that the world needs now more than ever.

So we will continue to play our part in ensuring that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.

The new deep and special partnership we seek will allow us to do so, contributing to the prosperity, security and global power of our continent to the benefit of the UK, Ireland, Europe and the whole world.

Theresa May is prime minister of the United Kingdom

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