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Coveney addresses Brexit in Columbia speech

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. photo


By Irish Echo Staff

Ireland is working to maintain the closest possible connection between the post-Brexit United Kingdom and the European Union.

That was the primary message delivered by Tánaiste and minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, in an address Wednesday evening at Columbia University in New York.

Mr. Coveney, who is on a three day visit to the U.S., told the Columbia gathering that Ireland had prepared well for Brexit and had been clear and consistent with regard to objectives and priorities for the Brexit negotiations.

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“For Ireland, a strategic objective of the Brexit negotiations now underway is clear: the creation of the closest possible future connection between the EU and the UK,” said Mr. Coveney.

“It is in the European Union’s interests, and overwhelmingly in Ireland’s interests, to have a confident and co-operative UK on our doorstep.

“After all, we cannot alter the basic facts of geography and history. And those facts shape our future in Ireland more than they impact any other country in the European Union.”

Mr. Coveney continued: “The other key strategic objective for us is to ensure that the outcome of Brexit does not in any way undermine the hard won gains of the peace process, as exemplified by the Good Friday Agreement.

“The EU, and of course the U.S., played a pivotal role in this achievement, together with the British and Irish governments.

“And the agreement was endorsed by huge majorities in Northern Ireland and in Ireland. We therefore all share the same goal of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process.”

With regard to the to the EU’s future relationship with the UK, the Tánaiste told his audience: “As regards the future relationship from 2021 onwards, it is fair to say the cards are still in the air and we are waiting to see how they land.

“There will, in all circumstances, be some fundamental questions to answer. If the UK is indeed to enjoy the closest possible relationship with the EU, its own regulatory rules and structures will need to be, at a minimum, closely aligned with those of the Union. Can this be achieved? How will it be monitored and enforced? How will disputes be settled?

"The European Union has made clear that, in these negotiations, it will not compromise on the integrity of the four freedoms of movement – of capital, people, goods and services – which are the basis of the internal market which lies at the heart of the project.

“Nor can the United Kingdom enjoy privileges and flexibilities outside the EU which it does not have within. Being outside cannot be the same as being inside. Contrary to what some may say, you cannot have your cake and eat it. Within those parameters, I am sure that the Union will be imaginative and open.”

Mr. Coveney emphasized the importance of re-establishing a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland.

“Closer to home, we urgently need to see the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to harness greater and broader Northern Ireland input into how to make the best of Brexit.

“Despite the efforts of both governments in recent months, and especially in recent weeks, it is deeply regrettable that there is at present no power-sharing Executive in place. However, we will not give up – we cannot give up,” he said.

Mr. Coveney said that Ireland faced the challenges of Brexit as a “global island, at the heart of Europe,” one that deeply valued its place within the European Union, as well as it close partnership with the U.S., a partnership defined by close political, cultural and economic ties:

“Ireland faces these unprecedented challenges with one absolute certainty: we are more than ever committed to our membership of the EU,” he said.

“This was the existential choice of our people in 1972 and it has never been seriously called into question – in recent polls, over eighty percent of Irish people support EU membership.

“We as a people fundamentally understand that the EU Single Market and Customs Union are essential to our economic growth – not least given their importance to attracting U.S. investment.

“The EU needs and wants the United States as its major international partner – in foreign and security policy, in free trade and investment, in protecting the environment.

“Brexit will, without doubt, change some of the dynamics within the European Union. We know that the U.S. and UK have, and will continue to have, very strong and in some cases unique ties.

“But this should not be an alternative to, or a threat to, the EU-U.S. relationship. In the same way, we in Ireland hugely value our special relationship with the U.S. which is strengthened by, and contributes to, the wider EU relationship.”