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Statement on the Visit of Prime Minister Boris Johnson

20190909 British PM

Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister, I am very pleased to welcome you to Ireland and I look forward to our conversation this morning.

We have much to discuss. 

First of all, allow me to say that we respect the democratic and sovereign decision of the British people to leave the European Union. 

We meet this morning at a point where the stated intention of the British Government is to leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal.

However, the story of Brexit will not end if the United Kingdom leaves on 31st October or even January 31st - there is no such thing as a clean break.  No such thing as just getting it done.   Rather, we just enter a new phase. 

If there is No Deal I believe that’s possible, it will cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike.  We will have to get back to the negotiating table.  When we do, the first and only items on the agenda will be citizens rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border.  All the issues we had resolved in the Withdrawal Agreement we made with your predecessor.  An Agreement made in good faith by 28 governments. 

If there is a Deal, and I think that is possible, we will enter talks on a Future Relationship Agreement between the EU and UK.  It’s going to be tough dealing with issues ranging from tariffs, to fishing rights, product standards and state aid.  It will then have to be ratified by 31 parliaments. 

Prime Minister, negotiating FTAs with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a Herculean task for you.  We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so. 

The manner in which you leave the EU will determine if that’s possible. 

I am ready to listen to constructive ways to achieve our agreed goals and resolve the current impasse.

But what we cannot do, and will not do, is replace a legal guarantee with a promise.

Our businesses need long-term certainty. 

And the people of this island, North and South, need to know that their livelihoods, their security and their sense of identity will not be put at risk as a consequence of a hard Brexit. 

The stakes are high.

Avoiding the return of a hard border on this island and protecting our place in the single market are the Irish Government’s priorities in all circumstances.  

We must protect peace on the island and the burgeoning success of the all-island economy.  This is why the backstop continues to be a critical component of the Withdrawal Agreement, unless and until an alternative is found. 

Yes, we are open to alternatives.  But they must be realistic ones, legally binding and workable.

We have received no such proposals to date. 

Prime Minister we have spoken twice by phone already.  I know we have a shared desire to see the Northern Ireland institutions restored. The Tánaiste and Secretary of State are already working closely together on that. The Good Friday Agreement is proof that old foes can come together to deal with the most intractable of problems. As co-guarantors of the Agreement, I look forward to exploring with you, how working with the Northern Ireland parties, we can restore power-sharing and devolution. 

Today I am confident about finding common ground. I am also determined to defend the all island economy, peace, and all that we value. 

Prime Minister, I know that you are an admirer of the great Winston Churchill, and you have written elegantly about his career.  

In the middle of the Second World War, Winston Churchill and the Army Chief of Staff, Lord Alanbrooke, made a long and perilous journey back from Washington by plane.  

They reached the coast of Ireland shortly after 4 a.m.  

Alanbrooke’s description of their first sight of Ireland is unexpectedly poetic from a normally reserved military man:

‘Beautiful moon shining on a sea of clouds.  Then out of the darkness dark patches loomed up out on the horizon, which turned out to be the north coast of Mayo.   We soon struck the coast, only just visible in the moonlight.  PM was as thrilled as I was’. 

I fear the vista when you flew in this morning was not quite as spectacular or as thrilling.  But you come nonetheless at a crucial point in the history of the relationship between our two countries. 

We may sometimes differ, but we are bonded by our shared past and shared kinship.  And we also have a shared dream for the future: one of peace, freedom, andprosperity.

I look forward to our discussions this morning and I now invite you to make some remarks.