British minister’s apology over Brexit negotiations ‘honest’ and ‘very helpful’, Taoiseach says

Micheál Martin welcomes UK participation in political meeting during an informal EU summit in Prague

An apology by British Minister of State for Northern Ireland Steve Baker for failing to understand the Irish Government’s concerns during Brexit negotiations has been described as “honest” and “very helpful” by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr Baker’s remarks came at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday, where he said “I am really sorry about that because relations with Ireland are not where they should be”.

The former chair of the Conservative Party’s European Research Group also said he had apologised in person to leading Irish figures in recent times and said he felt “the ice thawing”.

Mr Martin welcomed the comments and their tone, saying: “I think they were honest and very, very helpful.”


He said he looked forward to continuing engagement with Mr Baker and others in the British government, noting how he had met prime minister Liz Truss ahead of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr Martin said both sides have “articulated a collective sense of the long-term desirability of very good relationships obviously between Britain and Ireland and also between the United Kingdom and the European Union and I think those comments are in that context”.

Asked if Mr Baker’s remarks signaled a change in the UK’s position ahead of a fresh round of negotiations on the dispute over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, Mr Martin replied: “I don’t want to comment too much on that other than to say I take his comments as from himself personally in terms of what he might have said previously”.

He added: “The European Union and the United Kingdom have had discussions and prime minister Truss has met with the president of the commission Ursula von der Leyen.

“I’m very clear from my series of meetings and engagements that there is a genuine determination to try and resolve all of the issues around the protocol by negotiation. But obviously a lot of work to be done in terms of the hard negotiations ... But getting into a process would be important and will be very welcome.”


Speaking to reporters in Dublin, Mr Martin was also asked about the British government’s U-turn on its plan to cut the UK’s 45 per cent tax rate for people on high incomes, a policy announced as part of a mini-budget that sparked economic turmoil in Britain.

Mr Martin said he would not discuss the UK’s domestic politics “other than to say that what all of it reveals is a significant volatility out there in a very, very uncertain world now with the energy crisis in particular impacting on the European economy and the world economy”.

The Taoiseach welcomed the fact that the UK would participate in a political meeting during an informal EU summit in Prague later this week.

“The number one item on the agenda is the extraordinary levels of pricing across the energy sector and the degree to which that is impacting on the economy,” he said of the meeting.

Mr Martin was speaking to reporters after the launch of a report on efforts to foster cooperation between voluntary groups and charities on both sides of the border under the iCommunity initiative.

The project, run by The Wheel in the State and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, aims to develop cooperation in areas like climate action, recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and social enterprise. Mr Martin said iCommunity shows the “growing momentum and critical mass” of the Government’s Shared Island initiative.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times