Minister Flanagan gives keynote address at IIEA launch of its “Brexit Status Report”
Press release26 May 2017
Minister Flanagan gives keynote address to influential audience at IIEA launch of its “Brexit Status Report”
Minister addresses 140 representatives of business, industry, the diplomatic corps, the legal professions, NGO's, trade unions, the media, academia & government
Minister outlines the approach of the Government over the last 12 months and the progress to date including strong acknowledgement of Ireland’s unique concerns and priorities in the EU’s position for the Brexit negotiations
Minister highlights the challenges to come in the Negotiations
The Government’s focus on the economic dimension of Brexit will intensify in the coming weeks
Today (Friday) Minister Flanagan gave a keynote address on Brexit and the Government’s approach to the negotiations as part of the IIEA’s Brexit “Status Report” Launch. The Minister set out Ireland’s preparations, priorities for, and general approach to, the forthcoming negotiations between the EU and the UK.
The Minister reviewed the last twelve months from a Government perspective and looked ahead to the next twelve months, stating:
“Choose whatever metaphor suits you best, I will stick to a sporting one: in this game of two halves I would say we have had a solid first 15 minutes behind us which gives us much to build on going forward. And move forward we will.
“At EU level, Monday’s meeting of the General Affairs Council signed off on the final details to facilitate the opening of the Article 50 negotiations.
“We have a clear idea of how the process will work – led by Mr Barnier, under the political oversight of the European Council – and an equally clear understanding of the three areas of focus:
- Citizens’ rights
- The UK’s financial settlement
- And the border issue on the island of Ireland
“So far so good. The simplicity of the presentation however belies the complexity of the task at hand. Even leaving aside the border, the other two baskets of issues present multiple complexities.
“Taking the citizens’ rights question – on a positive note, there is clearly political good will on both sides to find solutions. But the detail will be complicated – this basket straddles many important issues in the area of residency rights, working rights, not to mention aspects of access to healthcare and education. That said, I believe that an early agreement in principle on the reciprocal protection of citizens’ rights is achievable and must be a priority.
“This would be important for individual EU and UK citizens and their families who find themselves in a position of uncomfortable uncertainty right now. We should never forget this is about people’s lives and their interest must come first.
“But in addition, a quick agreement in principle on this issue would also be important for building confidence between both parties at an early stage of what will be a difficult and complex negotiating process. Let’s remember it is in everyone’s interest for these negotiations to start well, and be carried out in a constructive manner.
“On the financial settlement question, the detail is no less tricky. I don’t view it as helpful to remark on the commentary in the media – and let’s not forget that there is a general election campaign underway across the water – but I will say this: The British government has always accepted that they will need to honour certain obligations and liabilities as a departing Member State as part of their exit arrangements.
“This is a matter of public record. This is not about punishing the UK or issuing a “bill” for leaving. It is very simply a legitimate expectation on the part of the EU that the UK should honour any financial commitments that it has already entered into. So, this issue will be addressed in the negotiations process – which fact is not under dispute. But the handling will be key.
“So, rather than focussing on figures, which can be unnecessarily inflammatory, I think the Commission’s approach to the negotiations is a smart one – Let’s look at the methodology first, agree those principles, and then calculate a figure based on this agreed methodology.
Addressing the issue of the EU’s future relationship with the UK, Minister Flanagan stated:
“More than anything, the endless commentary on the “bill” in the media underscores the highly political nature of Brexit. It also brings into focus the link between the exit negotiations and the future relationship negotiations. We know that on the British side, they are keen to get into the details of the future relationship that they will have with the EU. We understand this perspective, but equally we support the EU27 view that we cannot rush precipitously to this second stage. In accordance with the framework provided by Article 50, progress must advance on the exit issues, before we can turn to the future relationship.
“But I think we should remain hopeful that with pragmatism and good will on both sides, we shall see ‘sufficient progress’ across the Article 50 baskets in the weeks and months ahead which would allow the European Council to decide to move to this second phase where the detailed negotiations on the withdrawal agreement can be taken in parallel with discussions on scoping out the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
“All going well, this could happen as early as the end of this year. It will come as no surprise to anyone in this room that the future EU-UK relationship is of enormous concern and interest to the Government. We know that Brexit will have a disproportionately large impact on our economy. The Government has been very clear that we want to see the closest possible trading relationship between the EU and the UK post Brexit. Achieving this will be of the utmost importance as we strive to mitigate the impacts on our economy. For this reason, our focus in Government has intensified on the economic dimension of Brexit.
“Work is underway on a further piece of detailed analysis which will examine the economic implications of Brexit, including on identifying domestic policy measures:
- to protect our economy from the potential negative impacts of Brexit,
- to reinforce the competitiveness of the Irish economy, and also
- to pursue all opportunities that might arise.
Therefore, I noted with great interest the chapters of your Status report which look at the agri-food sector, and separately, at the role of SMEs. You have quite rightly identified these as being on the frontline in terms of the impacts of Brexit of the Irish economy. The questions that this analysis, yours included, throws up are complicated. And if last year has taught us anything, we must avoid a rush to simplistic answers which are presented as catch-all solutions.
“Instead, we must continue to invest time and effort in research, detailed analysis and planning so I look forward to feeding your work into the consideration of key issues which is underway at the heart of Government.”
26 May 2017