Ireland’s Brexit priorities 'remain unchanged' as British government's white paper published

The UK government launched its long-awaited proposals for a 'future relationship' with the EU this afternoon

Ireland’s Brexit priorities 'remain unchanged' as British government's white paper published

Leo Varadkar. Picture by: Virginia Mayo/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 17:45

The Taoiseach has warned that the British government's white paper on Brexit will not change Ireland's priorities.

The paper, outlining the proposals agreed by the British Cabinet last week, has been published this afternoon, and lays out the British government's plans for the future relationship with the EU.

In the document, Prime Minister Theresa May writes: "Our proposal is comprehensive. It is ambitious. And it strikes the balance we need – between rights and obligations.

"It would ensure that we leave the EU, without leaving Europe."

She insists the plan 'honours the result' of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

White paper

The plan, agreed by British cabinet ministers on Friday, will set up a new EU / UK free trade area for 'frictionless access at borders', although Britain would be entitled to apply different tariffs than the EU.

The proposals would keep Britain aligned with EU rules for goods, while it moves away in terms of services.

On the subject of Northern Ireland, the British government says the proposed free trade area would "avoid the need for a hard border [...] without harming the internal market of the UK – doing so in a way that fully respects the integrity of the EU’s Single Market, Customs Union, and its rules-based framework." 

The proposals would see the UK leave EU programmes such as the Common Agricultural Policy.

However, the British government also proposes a new 'security relationship' that would maintain "existing operational capabilities that the UK and the EU deploy to protect their citizens’ security" - including Britain remaining a member of Europol.

Mrs May's government is intending to end the free movement of people, but the white paper notes: "Further details of the UK’s future immigration system will be set out in due course".

However, officials have also committed to allowing citizens to travel visa-free for holidays, business trips and to study

The proposals sent Mrs May’s government into turmoil last week, with the country’s Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson both resigning in protest.

Reaction

Reacting to the paper, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said it was a step in the right direction.

He observed: "I think it's certainly a step towards a much softer Brexit than some people had been advocating for.

"There are some people who actually don't want a deal - they want Britain to simply leave and do its own thing independently... I think that would be a disaster for Britain, and I think it would also be a hugely negative outcome for Ireland."

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the proposals in the long-awaited document would be examined ahead of fresh negotiations with the UK next week.

Priorities

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier said he was looking forward to seeing the plans and how they'll affect Irish policy.

“One thing that won’t change is our three objectives when it comes to Brexit talks,” he said.

“First of all, protecting the common travel area – so that people can continue to travel freely between Britain and Ireland,” he said.

“Live, work, study; access housing, healthcare and education in each other’s countries as if we were citizens of both.

“Secondly, making sure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“And third, trying to minimise any negative impact on trade between Britain and Ireland.”

The plans will face a severe test when they're discussed in Westminster today.

Many of Mrs May’s Conservative Party colleagues are expected to oppose the policy, despite the Cabinet approval it received last week.

"Reassurance"

The newly appointed British Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said MPs should read the details of the plans, before judging them.    

“I think that they will see a lot of reassurance here,” he said.

“In relation to the position on ending free movement and in relation to the position on control over our own laws.”

Additional reporting by Stephen McNeice