Welcoming remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan T.D.
British Irish Chamber of Commerce Seminar:
“Changing landscapes – grasping the impacts of Brexit”
Iveagh House, 29 September 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Members of the Chamber,
I’m delighted to welcome you all here this morning to Iveagh House. I am very pleased to kick off the start of a series of breakfast seminars on the critical topic of Brexit and I commend the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and their partners and sponsors for their initiative and wish them every success with the remainder of the series.
My Department’s, and indeed, the government’s engagement with the Chamber has grown and deepened in recent times, particularly in the period leading up to the referendum on 23rd June where we were grateful for the Chamber’s assistance in planning Ministerial visits in Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester. In each of these locations, the Chamber was a great partner, working with their local counterparts, bringing together strong groups of entrepreneurs who epitomise the strength and potential of the British-Irish business relationship.
Our plan during these visits – in addition to outlining the government’s views regarding the referendum - was to develop new contacts in these major population centres - to build new relationships which would help our bilateral trade, whatever the referendum result would be. I would like here this morning, to publicly acknowledge the support of John McGrane, and the entire staff of the Chamber during that programme of visits and to assure you that this work will continue as we all seek to build on the connections made.
With Pat’s professional facilitation, I think we can look forward to some valuable insights from this morning’s panel and debate. I look forward to hearing from Sean Ryan who chairs Eversheds’ Brexit Group, as well as our speakers from Deloitte and Sanderson.
I welcome in particular Julie Sinnamon from Enterprise Ireland, who will share with you their important work to support Irish exporters both in the UK and further afield since the referendum.
From London, I very much welcome Jeremy Browne, formerly from this house’s counterpart house in the British Foreign Office and now the City of London’s representative to the EU.
Dear friends, we are now three months and one week on from the decision of the UK electorate to leave the European Union. Although the outcome was very disappointing we had of course prepared for the possibility of a leave vote, including through detailed contingency planning.
Since the referendum decision, we have continued to deepen our analysis and understanding of these issues, notwithstanding the uncertainties around when the UK government will trigger Article 50, the terms of its exit, and the shape of its new relationships with the EU. Over the summer, I spoke individually with each and every one of EU foreign minister counterparts, to reiterate our ongoing commitment to EU membership and to set out our key concerns arising from Brexit and, of course, to hear their concerns as we move forward together into unchartered waters. The implications of the UK vote was also very much the focus of the Taoiseach’s meetings with Chancellor Merkel and with President Hollande.
As part of our work, contacts with Prime Minister May’s new government have also been extensive. The Taoiseach met with Prime Minister Theresa May in London in July very soon after she assumed office as PM. The UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, was here in Iveagh House three weeks ago for a first round of talks. I have also met with the UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and expect to welcome him to Dublin soon. Closer to home, I have engaged on Northern Ireland with the new Secretary of State, James Brokenshire as well as Northern Ireland’s politicians. I was pleased to address the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on Tuesday where Brexit was very much on members’ minds. Our own TDs and Senators were joined by several Northern Irish MPs for the discussion and their presence was most welcome. I look forward to further engagement with that Committee and with the Oireachtas in general in the period ahead.
Our diplomats and officials across the EU and further afield are also very active; and we are boosting our teams in Brussels, London and key EU capitals as well as our teams working on the issue here in Dublin. The Taoiseach has convened the government’s new Brexit Cabinet Committee and has instructed the entire government to give Brexit the utmost priority in the period ahead.
Brexit is not just a British, Irish or European issues, but a global one. I spent last week in the New York at the United Nations General Assembly, where I had an opportunity to take the temperature of partner countries, and Irish-American business and community leaders. I also gave an address on the topic to an influential New York audience at Fordham University and engaged in a series of media interviews. There is huge interest in Brexit in the US, from both a political and business perspective and an impressive degree of understanding of Ireland’s particular concerns.
So the engagement at political level is extensive; it is thorough; it is sustained - and it will stay that way. The same applies to business community engagement and this morning’s event is further evidence of that.
From my own engagement with business - including through chairing the government’s Export Trade Council – I know there is strong support for the Government’s proactive approach in contingency planning, in managing the challenges and in chasing new opportunities for business.
Ireland’s priority areas of concern in the Brexit process are as follows: Northern Ireland; the Common Travel Area; the economy and trade; and ensuring a strong, outward-looking and results-driven EU with Ireland at the heart of it.
On the economy and trade, it’s about protecting and growing that dynamic €62 billion a year trading relationship with the UK, while at the same time helping Irish companies to break into new markets and we are busy advancing that agenda.
The Export Trade Council, which I chair, brings together all Government Ministers with an international dimension in their work, our State Agencies - Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, Science Foundation Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the IDA – and the private sector. The ETC proved a valuable forum for discussion and idea sharing in the lead up to the Referendum and I know it has an important role to play in the time ahead. For example, its next meeting in October will focus on markets in Asia-Pacific and how best Ireland strengthen its market presence in that region.
You will hear more from Julie shortly about the work EI is doing to ensure that Irish businesses are best positioned to manage this period of uncertainty.
I am conscious that you are all busy people and that this is only the beginning of a new day and I want to ensure that we have time to hear from all of our speakers and indeed that you also have an opportunity to engage with them. For this reason I have kept my remarks brief.
We are committed to working within the European Union and the Eurozone for a prosperous, safer, better future for all of its citizens. In tandem with this, we will work tirelessly to ensure that the trade links, North - South, and East - West, are maintained and indeed grown, to the greatest extent possible.
Our work with the Chamber has never been more important that it is right now. Our shared goal of protecting and developing trade with the UK presents us with a challenge - to think creatively and work in new ways to ensure that the future for Irish businesses remains bright and full of opportunity.