British minister Steve Baker has said he is “very proud” of the role two former chairmen of a Eurosceptic group of Conservative Party MPs have played in “completely transforming” the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
He made the remarks after a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting at Farmleigh House in Dublin, which he described as “a great success”.
Relations between Dublin and London hit a low point in recent years amid the turmoil caused by Brexit, including its impact on Northern Ireland.
Both Mr Baker, the British minister of state for Northern Ireland, and Northern Secretary Chris Heaton Harris are former chairmen of the influential European Research Group (ERG) which drove the push for Brexit in the Conservative Party.
Mr Baker last year apologised for failing to understand the Irish Government’s concerns during Brexit negotiations. He said Thursday’s meeting in Dublin took place “in a spirit of goodwill and authentic co-operation”, and included ministers whose briefs involved cyber security and energy.
He paid tribute “to the leadership provided by Ireland”, and said the meeting showed “this is a fundamental relationship for us”.
Mr Baker added, addressing Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin: “Actually I’m very proud that two former ERG chairmen...have been part of completely transforming, if I may say so, Tánaiste, this relationship. And I’m pleased because we’re now in a positive trajectory together.”
He also said: “I very much hope we’ll bring the DUP and Eurosceptic MPs to the same positive place in our relations with Ireland.”
Mr Martin said he endorsed what Mr Baker had said about what had been a “very substantive” meeting. “We want to maintain this momentum in terms of the British-Irish relationship, and we want to work patiently understanding each other’s positions, working through the challenges as they present themselves.”