No turning back: Ireland "firmly" on team EU as Britain triggers Article 50

The Foreign Affairs Minister says will not be a proxy for the UK in Brexit negotiations adding that there are "issue of a unique nature" we will bring to discussions

No turning back: Ireland "firmly" on team EU as Britain triggers Article 50

Donald Tusk receives the Brexit letter from Ambassador Tim Barrow in Brussels. Picture by: Alexander Britton/PA Wire/PA Images

European Council President Donald Tusk has received Theresa May's letter triggering Article 50.

The letter was delivered by Britain's EU Ambassador Tim Barrow in Brussels this morning.

It means the British Prime Minister has now launched the formal process for leaving the EU.

Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty the UK will now leave the EU two years from today, and a tough period of negotiations begins with the EU27.

Article 50's triggering comes nine months on from the referendum vote to leave.

Team EU

This afternoon, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan insisted that Ireland will remain firmly on team EU when negotiations get underway - adding that the country will not be a proxy for the UK in the talks.

The Article 50 letter made specific mention of the Irish situation, the peace process and the border - however Minister Flanagan said Ireland's negotiating position is now tied in with the remaining EU countries.

"Ireland will not be a proxy for the UK in these negotiations," he said. "Ireland will be firmly on the side of EU27."

"Having said that, there are issues of a unique nature, of a special nature, that we will be able to bring to the table in the context of our relationship with Britain."

Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on Brexit, Stephen Donnelly echoed Minister Flanagan's statement but warned that Ireland's unique situation mean negotiators will have to tread carefully:

"We are absolutely on the side of the EU27," he said. "However we are in an unusual situation in that - by and large - what will hurt the UK will hurt Ireland."

"So what the Irish government needs to be advocating for - and using very skilful diplomacy - is to say look lets have as little change as possible."

An historic moment 

After the letter was handed over this morning, Mrs May told MPs in London: "This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union."

"We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws.

"We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain."

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Tusk argued: "In essence this is about damage control."

"Our goal is clear - to minimise the cost for the EU citizens, businesses and member states."

Irish response

In the coming days the EU's negotiating guidelines will be given to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the other leaders of the remaining member states, laying the ground rules for the talks to come.

In a statement this afternoon, the Irish Government reiterated that "we regret the UK's decision to leave the EU", but noted it has been clear since June that this would happen.

The statement explains: "It should be noted that the UK will not actually exit the EU until the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, and a withdrawal agreement enters into force. In the meantime, nothing will change, including the UK’s obligations towards the citizens and businesses of other Member States.

"Ireland is well prepared for the challenges ahead. We will negotiate from a position of strength as an integral part of the EU 27 team, and will work with all our partners to achieve the best possible outcome."

It adds that the Government will publish a paper providing more details of their priorities ahead of a meeting of an EU Council meeting on April 29th.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Brexit Stephen Donnelly this morning called on the Government to provide a 'national response to a national challenge'.

He argued: “The clock is now ticking. Every day the government wastes increases uncertainty and the risk of job losses. Delay threatens livelihoods in several sectors including agri-food, fisheries and tourism.

"Delay threatens the economy of border communities. When these negotiations finish there will be no second chances to renegotiate, or to put forward Ireland’s unique position."

He added: “If the Government truly believes these are the most important negotiations in our history as an independent state, it's time to start matching works with actions.”

Theresa May's pledges

Picture by: Christopher Furlong/PA Wire/PA Images

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons, Mrs May vowed to "represent EU nationals who have made this country their home".

She offered a partnership with the rest of the European Union and implored Britain to "come together".

She argued: "I want us to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too.

"There should be no reason why we should not agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all."

On Tuesday the European Commission, Council and Parliament signalled that "EU law must apply until Brexit day" in two years' time.

The European Parliament, which can veto an UK-EU deal, is next week expected to make the guarantee of full EU citizen rights a red line.

After meeting with representatives of EU citizens living in the UK, European Commission Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU will be "firm on their rights".

Mrs May signed the Article 50 letter on Tuesday afternoon, sitting below a picture of the first British Prime Minister Robert Walpole.

Later, she called Mr Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "In separate calls, they agreed that a strong EU was in everyone’s interests and that the UK would remain a close and committed ally.

"They also agreed on the importance of entering into negotiations in a constructive and positive spirit, and of ensuring a smooth and orderly exit process."