Thank you Leo and it is wonderful to be here. And I thank you very much for the warm welcome you’ve given us. You and I first met a few years ago when you and I jointly officiated at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Trafalgar square in London. It was a pretty joyous occasion. And of course we celebrated the incalculable contribution of the Irish community to London.
And there in the vast crowds was of course the living human embodiment of one of the densest and most intricate and most vital relationships in the world between any two countries.
And together Leo today we both recognise that our peoples are the beneficiaries of the efforts of our predecessors – politicians and others – who put aside differences, who found compromises, who took our countries forwards together in circumstances far tougher than now. And the results for both UK and Ireland are immense.
Not just a peaceful and open border but an economic partnership by which we eat I think 50 per cent of all the cheese and beef produced in Ireland, and we are talking a lot. And the very captain of the world cup winning English cricket team was born in this city.
And I think that our job now is to take that relationship forward and to build on it at the UK-Ireland summit in November, I look forward to that, and in all the ways in which the UK and Ireland work together around the world with shared values and shared interests.
As you rightly say Taoiseach, before November there are two political tasks that we simply have to do. We must restore the government of Northern Ireland at Stormont, and I promise to work with you on our shared objective. And we must get Brexit done because the UK must come out on October 31, or else I fear that permanent damage will be done to confidence in our democracy in the UK.
And I know that this problem of Brexit was not, to be perfectly frank, a conundrum that Ireland ever wished for and I think there are three basic questions we need now to answer for the sake of our collective peace of mind.
Can we ensure that we continue to have unchecked movement at the border of goods and people and indeed cattle? I think the answer is yes – and as someone who went to the border several times before the Good Friday agreement, and shuddered to see watchtowers on UK soil, I can say now that the UK will never ever institute checks at the border, and I hope our friends in the EU would say the same.
Can we uphold the Belfast Good Friday agreement in all its particulars? Again I say the answer is yes, and our commitment to the peace process is unshakeable. Can we protect the economic unity of the island of Ireland and the gains that Ireland has won through its membership of the EU single market? And again I think the answer is yes – and I think we can achieve all these things while allowing the UK to withdraw whole and entire from the EU.
And of course I acknowledge the complexities involved. And the symbolism and the sensitivities evoked by the very concept of a border. But strip away the politics and at the core of each problem you find practical issues that can be resolved. With sufficient energy and a spirit of compromise, and indeed even the current treaty must logically envisage that the problems can be solved, or the present protocol would never have been called a backstop.
So if I have one message that I want to land with you today Leo, it is that I want to find a deal. I want to get a deal. Like you, I’ve looked carefully at no deal. I have assessed its consequences, both for our country and yours. And, yes, of course, we could do it, the UK could certainly get through it. But be in no doubt that it would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible and so, for the sake of business, and farmers, and for millions of ordinary people who are now counting on us to use our imagination and creativity to get this done, I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement.
Our governments have spent three years masticating this problem. I think it is time to honour the achievements of our predecessors who tackled far worse problems by cracking this one ourselves. I won’t say that we can do it all today, but I believe there is a deal to be done by Oct 18. Let’s do it together.
- September 9, 2019 at 10:23 am by Editor (displayed above)
- September 9, 2019 at 10:23 am by Editor