UK’s Brexit plan pushes need for key Irish role in EU negotiations

Ireland and the UK are described as “inescapably intertwined” in the British government’s newly published Brexit plan.

The White Paper on Brexit says the “unique relationship” shared by the two countries warrants special recognition in the forthcoming negotiations between the UK and the Europe Union.

A detailed section arguing for the retention of “as seamless and frictionless a border” as possible will give a boost to the Irish Government, which is coming under increasing pressure to reveal the detail of its own Brexit strategy.

The British document states the Common Travel Area should be retained on the basis that it is linked back to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.It also notes that Irish citizens have had a special place in Britain long before both countries joined the EU in 1973.

“Since well before the establishment of the EU, Irish citizens have had a special status within the UK, rooted in the Ireland Act 1949 and reflected in the British Nationality Acts.

“This status provides Irish citizens in the UK with additional rights beyond those associated with common membership of the EU,” the White Paper said.

According to the 77-page document there are “hundreds of thousands of Irish nationals residing in the UK and of UK nationals residing in Ireland”.

“There are also close ties and family connections, particularly across the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

Citing the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011 and President Michael D Higgins’s reciprocal visit to the UK in 2014, the paper added: “The relationship between the two countries has never been better or more settled than today, thanks to the strong political commitment from both governments to deepen and broaden our modern partnership.”

On the potential for customs posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the White Paper stated that cross-border movement “is an important part of this economic integration”.

“Over 14,000 people regularly commute across the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland for work or study,” it said.

The paper says that both the British and Irish governments have already agreed on a desire to protect the “reciprocal treatment of each other’s nationals once the UK has left the EU”.

“In particular, in recognition of their importance in the Belfast Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland will continue to be able to identify themselves as British or Irish, or both, and to hold citizenship accordingly,” the White Paper said.

Asked about the effectiveness of the Irish response yesterday, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the Government is “under absolutely no illusion about the nature and scale of the Brexit challenge and it has a clear and comprehensive plan”.

Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry told the Dáil the Government was offering “constant platitudes” but needed to publish a plan about how bilateral negotiations with Britain and the EU will go. “Brexit has the potential to wreck the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and to impact seriously on Border communities which are already struggling in the context of damaged trade,” he said.

Ms Fitzgerald responded: “To continue to talk about a lack of preparation is not the approach that the main Opposition party should take, from a reputational point of view as far as Ireland is concerned.

“It is very clear that the Government has done deep analysis across all areas of the Brexit network.”

She again rejected calls for a ‘Brexit minister’, saying the Taoiseach was in charge.

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