Premiers defend their closeness to US President Trump despite immigration row and pledge UK and Ireland will stay close after Brexit
By Bernard Purcell
There will be no return to a hard Border in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged in Dublin this week.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss Brexit – the formal start of which began with the Article 50 Bill in the Commons on Tuesday – she said she also “wants” to keep the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland.
Mr Kenny said he made it clear to Mrs May that “any manifestation of a hard Border” would have “very negative consequences that she fully understands”. In turn, Mrs May said she understood that the ability of people to move freely across the Irish border is “an essential part of daily life”.
“We need to find a solution which enables us to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland so that we can continue to see the trade, the everyday movements that we have seen up to now,” she added. “Of course we also want to ensure that we carry on with the Common Travel Area, which was in existence long before either of us were members of the European Union or its predecessors,” said Mrs May.
Both heads of government also said they would press ahead with controversial plans to embrace US President Donald Trump despite international uproar at his Executive Order barring muslims from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen certain entering the US.
Ireland, which will be expected by the UK to police its territorial Border with the EU after Brexit, operates pre-clearance for US immigration at Shannon Airport.
Mrs May, whose officials had earlier in the day tried to distance her from President Trump’s action and the decision to offer him a State Visit, was more resolute at the Dublin press conference saying the visit will go ahead despite protests and an on-line petition of more than 1.5 million signatures opposing it.
Mr Kenny said he would go ahead with next month’s annual St Patrick’s Day trip to ensure a vital line of communication between Ireland, the white House and 50,000 undocumented Irish ‘illegals’ and millions of American Irish was not broken. He said he did not agree with President trump’s action singling out those seven countries and predominantly Muslim people.
But, he said, it was important to “say face-to-face to the president the issues that are of importance to us”.
“I don’t want a situation where 35 million Irish-Americans or the 50,000 undocumented Irish who are in the States are left without contact or connection during St Patrick’s week.
“We have had great influence in the US over the years – we still have that influence and we intend to use it.”
Ms May said the UK will remain a reliable partner for Ireland saying the two countries had strong family ties. “There will be no “return to the borders of the past,” she said promising that the Border would remain invisible and “friction- free”.
She affirmed the UK’s commitment to the Belfast Agreement and to power sharing in Stormont. Mr Kenny said that while Ireland will remain a committed member of the EU it would set itself an “absolute priority” of ensuring minimal disruption to trade between the UK and the EU and the UK and Ireland.
“Our two governments are agreed that a close and friction-free economic and trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, including Ireland, is in our very best interests,” he told a press conference. “As the UK prepares for its formal notification under Article 50, we want to see that these deep trading ties between our two countries are recognised and facilitated.
“That will continue to be an absolute priority for my government, not just in our discussions with the British government, but also with our EU partners, as we prepare for the negotiation process on the EU side of the table.”
Ms May said staying in a full customs Union with the EU would leave the UK unable to agree free trade deals with other countries outside the EU bloc which she intends to do.
“We have of course said we do not want to see a return to the Border of the past – that isn’t just a phrase, actually it symbolises the sort of seamless, frictionless border that we want to see in the future,” she said. “Of course there are elements of full membership of the Customs Union that would restrict our ability to trade and do trade agreements with other parts of the world but I believe, and this is what we are working on, that we need to find a solution which enables us to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland so that we can continue to see the trade, the everyday movements, that we have seen up to now.”