Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
49. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he and the European Union will take to protect the Irish fishing industry during the Brexit negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3697/20]
52. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions at the Foreign Affairs Council in relation to Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3878/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 46, 49, 52 and 53 together.
Brexit was not on the agenda for discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 February.
The General Affairs Council on 25 February, adopted a Council Decision authorising the opening of the negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, together with a detailed set of negotiating directives. I also met with EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels in advance of the General Affairs Council.
The EU mandate sets out the EU’s clear position, based on the Political Declaration agreed between the EU and the UK on 17 October 2019, as well as the European Council guidelines and conclusions. This provides a generous and fair foundation on which a new EU-UK relationship can be built.
There has been extensive interdepartmental co-ordination across Government to ensure that Ireland’s priorities are reflected in the EU mandate. We have also worked closely with our EU partners to ensure that our collective approach to these negotiations reflects our priorities and interests. The mandate reflects the breadth and ambition on the part of the EU for a close and deep partnership with the UK. Of course, the level of ambition for the future partnership on the UK side will also influence what is possible to achieve.
We welcome the continuing focus in the EU mandate on protecting the Good Friday Agreement and on ensuring that issues arising from Ireland's unique geographic situation are addressed, as well as the Common Travel Area. Protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the Peace Process in all circumstances continue to be key priorities for Ireland and these priorities are shared by our EU partners.
The UK Government published its approach to the negotiations on 27 February, in advance of the start of negotiations between the EU and the UK on Monday, 2 March. Negotiation rounds will alternate between London and Brussels, and, on the EU side, will be conducted on behalf of the 27 Member States, by the Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom, under Michel Barnier, and the Commission.
It is welcome that the negotiations have opened in respect of a broad range of issues, as reflected in the mandate, with negotiations planned and underway on:
(i)Trade in Goods
(ii)Trade in Services and Investment and other issues
(iii)Transport (Aviation & Other)
(iv)Horizontal Arrangements and Governance
(v)Energy (Civil Nuclear Co-operation & Other)
(vi)Participation in Union Programmes
(vii)Level Playing Field for open and fair Competition
(viii) Law Enforcement and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters
(ix)Mobility and Social Security Co-ordination
Given the UK position that the transition period will not be extended beyond the end of 2020, as Michel Barnier has indicated, it may not be possible to reach agreement on all issues currently being discussed as part of the negotiations in the available time. We will continue to work closely and assess progress with our EU partners as the talks progress.
The Political Declaration sets out a commitment to establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, upholding access to waters and quota shares, within the context of the overall economic partnership. This issue was one which I discussed with Michel Barnier in Brussels last week and I welcome that he has been clear, that fisheries is part of the negotiations package, linked to FTA in goods and level playing field issues.
The work of the period ahead will be to achieve an ambitious and fair partnership that works for the benefit of all, and provides a new and strong foundation for the EU-UK relationship.
At the same time, it is important to see the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. The link between implementation and Future Relationship negotiations is also reflected in the mandate.
The ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement means that, regardless of the outcome of the EU-UK future relationship negotiations, the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will be in place.
The Protocol includes measures to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, maintain the Common Travel Area, the Single Electricity Market and protect continuing North South cooperation. It maintains commitments to ensure no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It confirms that people in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens and reaffirms the EU and UK commitment to the PEACE PLUS programme.
Implementing what has already been agreed between the EU and UK is important in establishing the trust needed for a successful outcome to the Future Relationship negotiations.
During the transition period, running to 31 December 2020, the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland will be overseen by the UK and the EU through the Joint Committee and Specialised Committees established under the Withdrawal Agreement.
The first meeting of the Joint Committee is expected to take place in March, with further meetings in 2020. European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefcovic will represent the EU at the Joint Committee and Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, will represent the UK.
While the Joint Committee and the Specialised Committees are EU-UK fora, Ireland is preparing to engage appropriately in taking this work forward. In accordance with Council Decision 2020/135 of 30 January 2020, a representative of Ireland may accompany the Commission representative in meetings of the Committee on issues related to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland where those issues are specific to Ireland/Northern Ireland.