To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will elaborate on the aim, contained in the Global Island, Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World, of Ireland as a neighbour of the United Kingdom, to work to encourage that country’s continued membership of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter – Seán Kyne.
Reply: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan
The UK’s continuing membership of the EU is a strategic objective for the Government. That is because we believe it is critically important for our economy and for the ongoing development of British-Irish relations. It is also our view that the EU itself is stronger and better with the UK as a full and committed member.
We must therefore do what we can to help to encourage the UK to remain within the Union. This means, as a starting point, continuing to work closely with our British partners – as well as other like-minded States – on policy issues where we share the same interests and approach. The British Government and other British political parties have made clear that the achievement of common aims in regard to economic policy – including the completion of the single market in services, the conclusion of trade negotiations with third countries and a more streamlined approach to EU regulation – is a high priority in itself and will strengthen the case for the UK’s continued membership.
Depending on the outcome of their general election in May, it is possible that the next British Government will make proposals on both how the functioning of the EU could be improved and specific UK concerns addressed. Ireland will certainly consider any reasonable proposals on their merits, if and when they are presented. We have a clear shared interest in seeing our Union operate more effectively. We also recognise – as the European Council has done – that the UK has some legitimate concerns that should be addressed. At the same time, we would not support anything which we think could weaken or otherwise adversely affect the Union.
The Government is monitoring developments in the EU-UK relationship very carefully. My Department is cooperating with other Departments, especially the Department of the Taoiseach, in this regard. Our Embassy in London naturally plays a key role in this process and we rely heavily too on the reporting and analysis we receive from our Embassies elsewhere.
We are also, of course, engaging directly with our British colleagues on the question of their EU membership. I myself had a detailed discussion with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond when he visited Dublin in December. The subject has arisen as well in informal contacts with other British Ministers and our officials – in this Department, the Department of the Taoiseach and elsewhere –are engaging regularly with their counterparts in the UK system. The UK’s place in Europe is also regularly discussed with other EU partners at both political and senior official level.
Ultimately, however, the nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU is primarily an issue for the British people and we must continue to respect and be sensitive to the democratic process underway there. We will though continue to play a constructive role in that debate and to ensure that our views are heard and clearly understood.