I have met and will continue to meet counterparts in the Irish Government as we work through the challenges ahead. The UK-Irish relationship has never been stronger. It is a unique relationship, and in the coming months we will strengthen co-operation to help to secure the best outcome from the EU negotiations.
I think my right hon. Friend will agree that both the common travel area and the open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have served us well for decades. Will he do everything he can to ensure those arrangements continue and that there is no establishment of hard borders within the island of Ireland or within the UK?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the common travel area has served us well over many years; indeed, we were party to it before we joined the European Union. It is a priority that we do not see a return to the borders of the past.
I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State reassure us that the common travel area is a key priority. Does not the fact that citizens of EU countries will be able to move freely to live and work in the Irish Republic make a nonsense of the leave campaign claims that Brexit means that somehow we can take back control of our borders?
No. This Government are very clear that the EU referendum underlined that free movement cannot continue as it does today. We are considering carefully the options in relation to migration policy as well as border policy, to ensure that both work in the best interests of the United Kingdom.
Security co-operation between our two countries is vital to fight against organised crime and terrorism. As we leave the EU, will the Secretary of State ensure that that continues to be a priority in his ongoing discussions?
I entirely agree. There are very strong relationships and connections between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other UK Government agencies. Those have been and will continue to be really valuable and we are determined to maintain them.
A number of institutions have been established for discussing these matters with the Government of the Irish Republic, including the North South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those are the bodies through which discussions take place, and not some ad hoc arrangement?
The right hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the structures that have been in place since the Belfast agreement, such as the North South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, which will meet again in a few weeks. They are really important and valuable structures that can and will be used in supporting the negotiations ahead; there is of course the new Joint Ministerial sub-committee as well.
Given that Her Majesty’s Government, the Irish Government and political parties in Northern Ireland want to see the special relationship and soft border continue, is it not incumbent on the European Union to allow us to exit on terms that will enable us to preserve that relationship?
My hon. Friend underlines a very significant point, which is the support that other EU member states have provided to the political process in Northern Ireland over many, many years. That is a point we have underlined and the Irish Government have underlined. We will continue to do so as we look towards the negotiations.
Charlie Flanagan said in Derry on Friday night:
“I view my role as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement as a solemn duty and—together with the Taoiseach—will be working to ensure that all aspects of that international agreement are fully respected in the new arrangements between the EU and the UK. Ireland has a seat at the EU table which we will use in the best interests of the whole island.”
Does the Secretary of State recognise that that will include the need for a bespoke and explicit reflection of the key constitutional precepts in annex A of the Good Friday agreement in any new EU-UK treaty?
The Irish Government and the UK Government are co-signatories to the Belfast agreement. I have said on a number of occasions that we stand behind our commitments. There are unique circumstances that operate on the island of Ireland: the common travel area, the single electricity market and so on. We are determined to find the right solutions that serve Northern Ireland well and all of the all-Ireland issues.
As I have already underlined, the Government are determined not to see a return to the borders of the past. We want to strengthen the common travel area. Work with the Irish Government has been ongoing for many months and will continue, reflecting the important issues the hon. Gentleman highlights on the movement of people, the movement of goods and services, and the sense of politics and identity, which is why this is such a priority.
The hon. Gentleman wants to get into negotiations that have not yet started. I underline the shared will and commitment of ourselves, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to support the common travel area and to ensure we do not return to the borders of the past. That is the work we have ahead of us.
We have already heard the huge concerns in Northern Ireland about the specific problems posed by Brexit. One fundamental issue that has not been addressed so far is the fate of the Good Friday agreement, which is an international agreement formally registered with the United Nations. Will the Secretary of State tell the House today what specific measures he and civil servants in Northern Ireland have taken to ensure that this important issue is not left behind in the wake of Brexit?
The Government remain fully committed to the political settlement and the institutions set out in the Belfast agreement and all its successors. The key principles established there, the details that have been taken over successive Governments, are things that we do not want to unsettle and that we will maintain. I assure the hon. Gentleman of the focus we are giving to this matter.