YESTERDAY Theresa May confirmed that Britain will leave the EU and the single market in a speech outlining a 12 point Brexit plan.
The British Prime Minister Mrs May spoke about Ireland’s border and said “maintaining that Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead.”
“The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us,” she said.
“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.”
Mrs May then went on to discuss leaving the lucrative European single market and underlined the rights of EU nationals already living in Britain.
“So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement.”
“We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can. I have told other EU leaders that we could give people the certainty they want straight away, and reach such a deal now.”
Here’s what the business community, government and campaigners had to say…
British Irish Chamber of Commerce: May’s priorities ‘alarming’ for business
John McGrane, Director General of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, praised the new clarity towards Brexit but revealed it was “alarming” that Britain will no longer be in the single market.
“While some of the content of what Mrs May said raises some concern, it is helpful that at least now the waiting is over and we have a good sense of what the UK negotiating position will be,” he said.
“It is clear from this statement that the UK Government’s concerns regarding immigration outweigh their need to retain membership of the EU single market and customs union.”
“This will be alarming for businesses operating in both the UK and Ireland, many of whom rely on the bilateral trade between our two countries for the over 400,000 jobs they sustain.”
Mr McGrane also called for the EU to understand the “special trading relationship” between Ireland and Britain and called for the maintenance of the Common Travel Area.
“We feel it is only right that the EU understands the importance of this relationship for both islands and accommodates the special trading relationship between us,” he said. “This includes maintaining the Common Travel Area limiting border control on the island of Ireland.
“Such steps will not only help ensure that Ireland is not adversely affected by a decision that is not of its own making.”
Ireland and Britain currently enjoy €1.3 billion worth of weekly bilateral trade.
Migrant rights campaigners: We need guarantee for the rights of EU nationals already living in Britain
The Migrant Rights Network and other related campaigners released a joint statement yesterday criticising the Prime Minister’s speech.
“All EU citizens resident in Britain should get a firm assurance in law that they will be able to continue living in the UK, with exactly the same rights of residence as they have now,” it said.
“We reject the notion that no guarantees can be given until the European Union offers the same guarantees to British citizens living in Europe.”
The joint statement also called for an end to the uncertainty.
“This should happen no later than the moment at which Article 50 is triggered to end the uncertainty that millions of our family members, our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours are experiencing.”
According to the Office for National Statistics, as of 2015 there were approximately 350,000 Irish-born people living in Britain.
The Irish Government: We are prepared for a hard Brexit
In a statement launched after Theresa May’s speech the Irish Government stated it was prepared and are under no illusion to the scale of the “Brexit challenge”.
“Prime Minister May has made clear that she wishes to secure the closest possible future economic relationship for Britain with the EU, a goal that Ireland shares.
“The Government’s preparation is extensive. Important organisational changes have been implemented in Government Departments and Agencies, with additional resources provided in key areas.”
The statement from the Irish Government also welcomed the Prime Minister’s reassurances over the Irish border and underlined their support for the European Union.
“She made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland, both of which are welcome.
“Economic opportunities for Ireland will be pursued vigorously and Ireland will negotiate from a position of strength, as one of the 27 Member States firmly in, and committed to, the European Union.”
TUC General Secretary Francis O’Grady: Concerned leaving the single market is bad for jobs and workers
TUC General Secretary Francis O’Grady said: “Working people are worried they will end up paying the price of leaving the single market.
“There is real concern that it will be bad for jobs, bad for rights at work, and bad for the living standards of British people.
In her speech the Prime Minister also stated “we will ensure workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained” and that the British Government would build on current EU labour law.
TUC General Secretary O’Grady welcomed this and said: “The commitment to protect workers’ existing rights and to build on them is welcome.
“The best way to do this is for the Prime Minister to agree that UK workers’ rights will always be as good as, or better, than workers’ rights in the rest of the EU.”
O’Grady also tweeted about the historic speech.
British people want a #Brexit deal that serves the many not the few…
— Frances O’Grady (@FrancesOGrady) January 17, 2017
Ibec: Hard Brexit is an agressive move by Britain
Ibec is the largest business representation organisation in Ireland.
CEO Danny McCoy, stated how the Theresa May’s speech “raises fundamental questions about Ireland’s future trading relations with the UK”.
He warned that leaving the single market “would be a significant economic shock to the economy and would hit Irish exporters hard.”
Mr McCoy also attacked the clarity of the British Government over the details of a hard Brexit.
“It is vital that the UK Government sets out in more detail how the serious challenges presented by a hard Brexit might be addressed, including the impact on cross border trade on the island of Ireland,” he said.
“This is an aggressive move by the UK, showing little regard for our trading relationship and for relations with other EU member states.”
The Ibec CEO also called upon the Irish Government to match Britain’s new business competitiveness.
“A comprehensive immediate domestic response package is needed to safeguard Irish jobs and enterprises.
“Ireland must also play a central and constructive role in Brexit negotiations, and ensure our interests are forcefully represented,” he added.